From the Schoolyard to the Workplace: The Bully


Last week I wrote about the MVP in the workplace. This week, I am prompted to make a stretch from last week’s narrative. Something quite the opposite. Although each of us can identify an MVP or two on our team, look around and you may not only identify the MVP but you may just also find a bully.

Wikipedia states that workplace bullying occurs when an employee experiences a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes harm. This form of bullying can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of workplace aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical forms of school yard bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of the organization.

Bullying is something we all hope not to have to deal with much beyond high school. Unfortunately, unlike playground bullies who often resort to using their fists or steal your lunch money; workplace bullies usually use words but more so actions, to intimidate/hurt their co-workers and subordinates especially when they have the authority to do so and …often times without accountability.

Workplace bullies typically pick on employees they consider threatening to their career but not always. If your presence makes someone else look bad enough; they feel the need to take you down, take it as an abnormal.

Bullying when you are an adult is different. It’s more subtle and political.

Co-workers bullying behaviors:

  • Downright fabricate information to the boss and others
  • Subtle sabotage (this type of bulling is hard to uncover. Yet, it is possible to do so. The freedom of information act better known as FOIA is a great discovery tool)
  • Condescending

Bullies in high places:

Some bosses think that just because you work for them they can talk to you any kind of way and mistreat you.

  • Condescending
  • Block opportunities for training
  • Deliberate and unreasonable isolation or exclusion from work discussions, communication or other work-related activities
  • Frivolous Fact findings (Instead of a conversation, a waste of government time and money to conduct an investigation based on gossip or because an assignment wasn’t completed)
  • Unrealistic Performance Plan
  • Overloading you with work or taking away your work
  • Removing areas of responsibility without cause
  • Disapprove leave request just because she can
  • Hold back deserved promotion but promote others
  • Bait (Avoid the shrewd motive of the baiter)

About 45% of individuals targeted by bullies at work suffer stress-related health problems according to a survey. This includes cardiovascular problems, impaired immune system, anxiety and also post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), says Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute.

An employee in the Guardian reported: After I complained to management, my advancement through the company suddenly stopped. Your right not to be bullied, your health and well-being is much more important than advancement.

Nearly half of all American workers (49%) report that they have been affected by workplace bullying, either being a target themselves or having witnessed abusive behavior against a co-worker.

Most bullies never expect to be called out on their behavior, and now that you’ve put it out there, she’ll have to make the difficult choice of either stopping her behavior. Here’s a few ways to attempt to neutralize the workplace bully:

  • Call it as you see directly to the bully…of course professionally
  • Report it to their supervisor. If it is your supervisor, report it to her supervisor (in writing of course). Most likely your complaint will be minimized
  • Let HR know (HR may mean human resources but they are not your resource. This is a human problem but they are management’s human resource, not yours. However, it’s important for them to be aware so they can’t say they were not)
  • Document, document, document! (Gone are the days of the notepad in your back pocket. Electronic documentation such as Microsoft Outlook or the Notes option on your smart phone will stamp date/time of your documentation entry). A documented consistent pattern of multiple incidents of bullying behavior cannot be easily explained away–they will try…and even blame you
  • If you choose to stay… prevail OR update your Resume and interview skills for an exit

The views expressed here are solely the experiences and opinions of the author.

June Bridges Cox is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Debra Marcelle-Coney

WOW! This is such a timely topic. It appears, the Workplace is a tightrope balancing act for many and for others; its a sure fit depending on “Who you Know or what you many have as an Ace in the Hole.” Hopefully the days of being judged based on your merits will return to the Workplaces around the World for the sake of All and not just the Few. I see 2015 as the Year of Manifestation for all those who have planted good seeds in futile soil. Best Wishes to Everyone in Your Endeavors!
Always Grateful to Serve,

Military mom

How can one ask for a voluntary transfer via their union or otherwise due to the work environment? Also if one has gone to medical professionals as it is impacting their health?


i would rather work two jobs at fast food restaurants than accept mistreatment by any city, state or federal employee…no matter who they are.

It’s about choice! It’s about prevailing or exiting to a better environment.

Jeanne Malgeri

Interesting. So glad to no longer be a part of the large government system. Obviously, the smaller workplace arena is far better managed than the bureaucracies; perhaps the system has become just too large for those in a position of authority to take the time to notice employees of excellent caliber or for recognition based on merits.
Keep up these thought provoking editorials.

Linda Sue

In my case I talked with co-workers who witness me being “mis-treated” not bullying but they decided not to go forth. I went to my union, HR and sent an email my manager boss. Union gave me some options (friend of our Manager), HR did nothing and her boss was sick at the time so she was his back-up. I got screwed all around. my problem she has her groups of friend and those that do not like how she treats others don’t say anything because she has your ticket for promotions and training to get to that next level. Around here its who you know friends and friends of friends who gets the jobs. This happens in every State Department I have worked with. You kiss my but and you will get the top.


Sometimes the union is limited. As mentioned above, HR is not your friend. Expect your coworkers to support you privately but not publicly.You have to be your own advocate. Be strong, Linda Sue!


I agree with June. You have the choice to either accept it, or move on. I refuse to be bullied, talked down to, humiliated in any form or from anyone. Yes, I have lost jobs because of my decisions, but I always got a better job. Everyone reports to someone higher, even your boss. Go outside the company and file a complaint. Just recently a coworker was fired who fit every definition of a work place bully. Enough complaints were put out against her, she made the mistake of fraud and getting caught, and there was enough documentation against her to have her fired. My take is that bullies will eventually let their guard down and be caught doing something illegal. Reason: they are too busy bullying others.

Edward Stern

You are quite right that workplace bullying can make people sick–it is psychological violence. IF a person is in a company subject to OSHA Recordkeeping rules (some are not), AND the person gets an emotional/mental illness that is work-related, AND the person voluntarily hands in a letter from his/her doctor to that effect, THEN the illness should be on the OSHA Log of injuries and illnesses. You can test this on the online OSHA RECORDKEEPING ADVISOR on http://WWW.DOL.GOV/ELAWS. (I learned that when I wrote the decision logic for the system.) I suspect that many such cases are not being recorded on OSHA Logs.