Bullies in the Workplace

tired-business-woman“Bullying wasn’t okay in elementary school and it isn’t okay now.” – John Doolittle, U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey.

Sadly, bullies are alive and well in the American workforce. 37% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 54 million Americans) report being bullied at work; an additional 12% witness it. 49% of workers.

Key Findings Bullies and Bully Victims

The Workplace Bullying Institute‘s U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey (September 2007) reports these facts about bullying — defined as same-gender/same-race harassment ignored by current laws — in the workplace:

  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal forms of “harassment”
  • American employers ignore bullying. In 62% of the cases, when made aware of bullying, employers worsen the problem or do nothing
  • Most bullies are bosses, with 72% of bullies as bosses and 55% of those bullied are rank-and-file workers
  • Bullying mostly affects women, with women being targeted in 57% of the cases and women targeting other women in 71% of cases
  • Bullying is a public health hazard, with 45% bullied targets suffering from stress affecting their health
  • Bullied individuals are not “sue crazy,” with only 3% filing lawsuits. In fact 40% fail to complain.

Top Tactics of Bullies

  • Verbal abuse: swearing, name calling, malicious sarcasm, threats to safety, etc.
  • Behaviors/action: public or private that were threatening, intimidating, humiliating, hostile, offensive, inappropriately cruel conduct, etc.
  • Abuse of authority: undeserved evaluations, denial of advancement, stealing credit, tarnished reputation, arbitrary instructions, unsafe assignments, etc.
  • Interference with work performance: sabotage, undermining ensuring failure, etc.
  • Destruction of workplace relationships: among workers, bosses, or customers

Bullies are cruel and innovative. Most bullies are threatened by their targets, who are often more skilled than the bully.

Bullying is Top Down

  • 43% of bullies have an executive sponsor
  • 72% of bullies are bosses with women being targeted by bosses 74.7% of the time
  • 55% of those bullied are non-supervisory employees

Bullies operate with confidence that they will not be punished because they enjoy support from higher-ups who can protect them if and when they are exposed.

What can you do if you’re being bullied?

Unfortunately, there are no laws protecting employees from bullying in the workplace.  Suing your employer is expensive. Your privacy will be lost because your health records will be available for your bully and employer.

Regardless of whether you pursue a legal remedy, have an exit strategy to get out of your dysfunctional work environment, get help if you need it to get healthy again, and use the Workplace Bullying Institute’s strategy to find a safe employer for your next job.



  1. Greetings;
    Thanks for your brief but informative article on “Bullies in the Workplace.”

    Much could be said about the information in the article but as one who has experienced the psychological trauma of being a target, I would like to comment on your statement, “Bullies operate with confidence that they will not be punished because they enjoy support from higher-ups who can protect them if and when they are exposed.”

    I was the target of a bully for over 2.5 years at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, (a part of the Trinity Health system headquartered in Novi, Michigan), in Boise Idaho. One of the ironies of workplace bullying is that bullying is more common in health care than most other areas, even though health care businesses claim to care about and provide healing for people. Bullies are often protected by management.

    At St. Alphonsus I reported the bullying to management numerous times withour ever receiving a relevant response. I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the bullying, and reported the PTSD injury to various levels of management (including the CEO) more than 2 dozen times. No one responded addressing the fact that I was being injured. On the other hand the bully was coddled by management. She made numerous false accusations against me trying to get me fired, and they were repeated accusingly back to me by management almost word for word. I was never given an opportunity to respond to her charges in front of either her or management.

    Management refused to listen to my side of the story. I was threatened with termination for reporting the PTSD injury to management. Eventually I had to find another job even though I worked at St. Alphonus for 30 years and had an excellent work record.

    However the bully was promoted to a day shift job and eventually into a supervisory position. The department manager who refused to address the problem and claimed that the PTSD injury was “petty” also received a significant promotion.

    Although this is probably what management wants, I would have to recommend that if you become the target of a bully in the workplace especially in the health care field, you might as well start looking for another job. It’s highly unlikely that management will be supportive, or do anything to stop the bully and protect you from injury and disability.

    It’s unbelievable how a hard working person can devote decades of his/her life to an employer only to be treated like scum when requesting assistance from the employer to stop abusive behavior from a co-worker.

    Only when awareness rises and/or legislation is enacted to protect the employees from bullies will the victims of abuse have any recourse other than seeking employment elsewhere.

    Thanks again.
    Leonard Nolt

    • Hi Leonard, thank you for for sharing your story.

      Everything you described is what exactly what I read in U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, when “management” fails to believe or even discredits a target’s issues on being bullied by another worker or boss. I can’t believe bullies are not only allowed to keep practicing their harassment, but are eventually promoted.

      I encourage readers to read How Bullying Happens to understand how bullying can happen in the workplace.

      Thank you again for being so detailed about your experience and recommending that if target of a bully should find another job.

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