a group of pawns with talk bubbles above them bullying another pawn

Bullying in the workplace: What it looks like and the role you play in stopping it

Bullying in the workplace: What it looks like and the role you play in stopping it

4 Minute Read

Workplace bullying affects every member of an organization. From leadership to incoming employees, everyone has a role to play in recognizing and putting an end to the various forms of bullying that can take place in offices, worksites, and everywhere in between.

Director, Forensics and Litigation Support

Workplace bullying can have significant impacts on an employee and the entire organization if not dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner

Workplace bullying has different names: harassment, intimidation, humiliation, and abuse, among many others. This kind of behaviour can take place at workplaces across industries and in and out of an office environment.

Bullying is a form of unwanted, aggressive, or even passive-aggressive behaviour in which someone causes another person injury or discomfort. It can also look like a misuse of power in workplace relationships in the form of repeated verbal or physical abuse or other negative social behaviours which isolate a person and cause them harm.

Unfortunately, the issue of workplace bullying persists despite more awareness and understanding of the varying types and degrees people can experience. In recent years, complaints, and allegations against television personalities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon, as well as film producer and convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein, have illustrated that no one is immune to the dangers of workplace harassment and abuse.

In the case of Jimmy Fallon, two current and 14 former employees claimed they had experienced negative outcomes because of Fallon’s erratic behaviour. Seven other workers came forward to say that their mental health was affected as a result of working on his show.

In pop culture, movies such as Mean Girls, Wonder, and the horror film Carrie, dramatize the effects of bullying on the victims. Additionally, terms such as toxic masculinity have pervaded sports teams across the world, illustrating a shift in culture that acknowledges the issues of harassment and harmful behaviour, refusing to accept that kind of work environment as commonplace.

What does workplace bullying look like and where does it happen?

Bullying is not always plain and simple. It can look like repeatedly ignoring an employee, failing to invite them to company events, not recognizing their contributions to a project, placing unrealistic expectations on them, treating employees poorly or sending emails which are dismissive or targeting. Bullying can be subtle and silent.

These are just a few examples of workplace bullying but there are many more ways in which bullying, intimidation and harassment take place in a work environment.

It is important to note that workplace bullying can take place in various setting including offices, retail stores, educational institutions, and even on remote job sites. The bullying may occur online, in-person, or both.

Diligence is key to understanding how bullying might be impacting your workforce and is even more important when it comes to putting a stop to toxic and dangerous behaviour before it can escalate any further.

Bullying can affect an employee’s performance at work as well as in their personal life and it is one job of the employer to recognize these signs, among others, and act:

  • Frustration
  • Overt emotional distress
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Increased sick leave or absence.

Checking in on your employees if you notice behaviour that is out of the ordinary can help them feel supported and understood and might encourage them to share their experiences.

Why do people often not come forward to report bullying?

There are many reasons a person may not come forward that apply to both the victim of the bullying and bystanders who may have observed or been disclosed about the bullying.

Employees may fear they will lose their jobs or face other professional repercussions for reporting bullying behaviour. They might also be worried they will become a target for more abuse from the bully.

According to recent employment surveys, employees are more likely to leave a job because of bullying rather than face their bully or confide in a superior or HR department over fears of an unknown outcome.

Organizational culture is another big reason employees may fail to report workplace bullying. If an organization doesn’t foster a culture of openness, inclusion, trust, a person will be far less likely to feel they have the support they need to facilitate change. Additionally, they may be unaware of what kind of procedure or policy they need to follow to ensure their protection. Having clear guidelines within an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) or HR policy can help alleviate some of the stress or confusion.

What can be done?

Bullying prevention practices will never be complete until bullying behaviours are identified and addressed with all employees. Management has a significant role to play in ensuring they exercise their authority to enforce certain policies and punish bullying behaviours. However, using bullying language to manage employees is ethically wrong and will not yield positive results.

Creating a workplace that champions ethical behaviour is about more than a business statement, it’s living your anti-bullying policies and showing your employees how seriously you take them.

This can include:

  • Demonstrating ethical behaviour as well as appropriately dealing with poor behaviour quickly and effectively.
  • Ensuring your policies and procedures reflect the changing health and safety and harassment legislation in your province and federally.
  • Providing training to all employees on your expectations and what constitutes bullying.
  • Supporting victims of bullying by offering support services such as counselling through your organization’s Employee Assistance Program, or elsewhere.

Monitor behaviour and look for the signs. Recognize where there is tension in your workplace and ensure you have policies in place to provide a safe, confidential way for employees to report bullying.

Bullying behaviour can and will escalate quickly and will affect more than one employee without speedy intervention. This can result in the loss of great employees, unexpected sick leave, poor reputation, and further allegations against the organization if not managed properly.

Understanding what bullying is, where it can be found, and how to protect your employees and the organization will give you the tools to foster a healthy work environment for all.

Contact Us

To learn more about bullying in the workplace and how to set yourself and your organization’s policies for success, contact Michael McCormack, Investigative and Forensic Services, CFI.


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