What is Workplace Bullying and What are Its Types?

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

In the past decade, we have heard or witnessed an alarming concern regarding bullying among children. But do you know that bullying can also exist in the workplace? Yes, adults are expected to act in civilized and ethical manner; but sadly, there are people who are inconsiderate of other people's feelings and they enjoy witnessing others suffer. These people repeatedly and intentionally cause others to feel inferior and humiliated resulting to deep emotional pain.

The stress associated with workplace bullying can also result to health problems such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and hypertension (Source: APA). Even development of some types of autoimmune disorders, where the body's immune system attacks its own tissues, have been strongly associated with history of stress-related disorders according to a study. If you experience any of these conditions, it would be best to talk to your primary healthcare provider for further assessment and/or treatment.

Workplace bullying could have been happening a long time ago; but only recently, has it been gaining so much attention from the general public. It is something that must not be ignored because it can cause reputation and financial problems within an organization. It could also result to engaged staff quitting their job.

Seeking awareness on what it is and what are its common examples is the initial step in advocating for a safe and healthy environment among every stakeholder in the workplace. It is through this awareness that we can build programs to prevent and/or eliminate it. Moreover, since laws may vary from one place to another, policies within the work setting can be more influential in fostering bullying-free environment.

So, what is workplace bullying?

Although there is no unanimous definition yet for workplace bullying, many definitions across literature say that it is a persistent, repeated, intentional and inappropriate behavior against an individual or group/s that is intended to intimidate, humiliate, undermine, and/or offend. There is usually a power imbalance between the aggressor (the bully) and the target (the person being bullied). These behaviors are truly unwanted by the victim/s.

It can occur laterally/ horizontally among employees in the same level or vertically such as bullying received from one's superior.

Horizontal and vertical workplace bullying

Bullying can be categorized according to: (1) behavior, (2) setting, (3) means, (4) visibility, and (5) harm done, as cited in one of the articles I read.

Classifications of Bullying

1. Behavior

  • Verbal. These are hurtful or rude spoken words that include teasing, name-calling, and other insults or attacks against another person's physical appearance, social status, race, sexuality, culture or religion.

  • Physical. It includes physical attacks such as pushing, slapping, punching, kicking, spitting, pinching, grabbing and/or damaging or stealing another's properties. The bully aims to threaten, scare or intimidate the victim who he/she perceives is weaker or won't fight back.

  • Social. This is also called relational bullying by which the aggressor uses relationships to hurt others. It includes intentionally excluding or rejecting the victim in a social group (silent treatment) and spreading rumors or lies.

2. Setting

  • In-person. This is face-to-face bullying behaviors.

  • Online. It is bullying through the use of electronic technology, such as cellphones; internet; social media; or websites. It is heartbreaking to know that because of unethical use of technological advances, bullying can now hunt us no matter what time of the day it is or where we're at--even in this place called 'safe haven', our HOME.

3. Means

  • Direct. This is bullying, whether by words or actions, directly inflicted by the bully to his/her target.

  • Indirect. These are behaviors done or said behind the target's back that causes damage to self-esteem and reputation. The bully does not directly make interference with their victims but their actions cause harm to others by creating feelings of powerlessness.

4. Visibility

  • Overt. When bullying behaviors can be easily identified, it is said to be an overt bullying.

  • Covert. Usually done by clever bullies, covert bullying are subtle behaviors that can be hard for other people within the environment to identify. This may include weird or threatening hand gestures or looks, turning one's back, and socially isolating or excluding the victim. Aggressors could try to deny their behavior by claiming "It's just a joke," or "We're just having fun."

5. Harm done

  • Physical. This is when the bully hurts and/or injures the victim's body from a direct contact/ aggression. It may include hitting, pinching, punching and/or kicking.

  • Psychological. Psychological bullying involves toying with the victim's emotions. It results to negative feelings of self-worth such helplessness, shame, intimidation, and loneliness.

When we get bullied we feel an attack against our self-confidence. It causes us to feel embarrassed and focusing on our tasks becomes so hard. Eventually it could affect our work performance. If organizations do not take its part to create a healthy environment, bullying might be embraced as a social norm and everyone could be expected to just deal with it. Worse, victims who cannot contain it anymore (when their coping resources have already been been exhausted) and eventually show physiological, emotional and social manifestations might be perceived as weak and emotionally unstable.

The challenge remains on the hand of every leader, manager, and worker to be vigilant against bullying in the workplace. A positive work culture influences workers at all levels to become engaged employees, thus giving their best performance and commitment to the accomplishment of the organization's goals and objectives. Overall this may then translate into higher profits benefiting business owners the most.

For entrepreneurs, caring for your human capital is of utmost importance because they are your most important asset. You probably depend on them to produce your products and services and they are your frontliners, representing you and your business to your customers. Remember that it is your customers who determine your paycheck. Even if your business largely relies on sophisticated machines, your enterprise still needs highly efficient and motivated human staff to operate them.

For us who get lucky not to be bullied, we can do something about it too. Witnessing an aggressor bully the powerless individual/ group is an opportunity become advocates of a healthy organizational environment. When we keep our silence, we indirectly support these inappropriate social behaviors. It is more likely that bullies enjoy an audience because they get to prove their power over another.

May we all work together to embrace values that is based on respect, effective communication, collaboration, and teamwork.

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