The Office Bullies

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This topic contains 31 replies, has 23 voices, and was last updated by  Corey McCarren 8 years, 2 months ago.

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  • #161218

    Emily Landsman

    Has the way we communicate online taken office bullying to another level?

    I was talking to a colleague this weekend about some odd issues in his office. Nothing he’s doing specifically, but recently a “gang” of staffers (all under 35, most under 30, all with 3-4 years at the office) has begun to reprimand younger staffers and interns without having any authority to do so, and from what I’m told, not much reason, and mid level managers are looking the other way

    This reminded me of something that happened in my old office a few years ago that made me feel like I was in high school. I noticed that in less than one week, four of my coworkers (again, all under 30 and 2-3 years in the office) had unfriended me on Facebook and stopped talking to me socially during the work day. There was a bit of smack talk about me, I later heard from someone who overheard them and was annoyed. I never found out why they did it or if I had actually hurt one of them, but the group also became aggressive towards a number of staffers for seemingly no reason. Again, mid level managers didn’t want to get involved. I didn’t really care too much on the social end, and I didn’t need to work with any of them directly to do my work. I just thought it was rather odd and unprofessional.

    Both groups might be classified as bullies….and some of their bullying appeared to have spilled over to social media. Both groups were made up of younger staffers, but what about the more senior employees? Organizations spend a nice chunk of HR funds to hire specialists to point out trends such as bulling and cliquish behavior. Focus should be on methods that are now being used thanks to social media, instant messaging and texting, etc.

    Does social media enable cliques at the office? Does online bullying exist in the modern adult work place?

  • #161280

    Corey McCarren

    I don’t think social enables or discourages cliques, really. I’m sure there always have been workplace cliques, and maybe social is another outlet for them, but I don’t think it enables them any more than they already were.

  • #161278

    I just posted this forum over in the “Generations” group on GovLoop because I am worried that what you described above is being brought into the workforce by younger folks who may lack social skills due to a heavy emphasis on gaming, texting and other web-based socialization in their formative years.

    Now – I have not had a personal and direct experience of what you are describing, Emily…all my interactions with younger members of the workforce have been excellent. So I can’t generalize this phenomena…

    And I would also add that cliquish behavior, good ol’ boys networks and the like have always plagued the workplace…so not sure what to make of what you’re describing above or why we are talking so much about bullying in the public sphere these days.

    Are we just becoming less tolerant of each other due to the impatience created by a “have it your way now” society?

  • #161276

    Carol Davison

    What do you mean that organizations spend a nice chunk of HR funds to hire specialists to point out trends such as bullying and cliquish behavior? Please detail.

    Signed HR Performance & Development Specailist

  • #161274

    Emily Landsman

    I think part of it is the “have it your way” mentality. Just thought after your good ol’ boys mention that while it really has existed forever in the workplace, it generally comes with age and seniority. I’m entitled to have this attitude and talk about people because I’ve been here and I’m safe.

    Right on with the lack of social skills. I see it and it kills me. (My #1 pet peeve is people who reply to “thank you” with “uh huh” though that really has no age limit.) It’s also depressing to see people write in text message short hand in formal emails and such.

    In the second personal story I described, I really think the group was going after me simply because I was there. They didn’t get a great reaction from me so they moved on to someone else. I’m told by some current staffers it’s still happening, and still being basically ignored.

    Also, I might be more aware of it because I’m a girl….that kind of behavior is wired into us, according to CNN, the Today Show and several Dateline specials.

  • #161272

    Scott Span

    I read an article with a very similar story this AM. Though the use of social media is exceedingly high among the Millennials, as a forum to express ideas and opinions both personal and professional, I don’t think the concept is anything new – just the vehicle/medium. I tend to agree with Andy. As someone who works in team dynamics and generational diversity I can say in my experience office cliques, good or bad, have always been around. People gravitate toward those who make them feel comfortable or those who are similar and this can lead to some feeling outcast or being a bit bullied by cliquish behavior. I don’t think we can ignore the new medium of social media is these cases, however think it much more important to focus on the team dynamics and the organizational culture and behaviors that contribute to these types of issues and or allow them to perpetuate.

  • #161270

    Kevin Lanahan

    Social media is neutral as far as cliques go, but bullying definitely exists, and always will.

    I don’t include a lot of coworkers in my social media circles unless I’m actually friends with them. If I just work with them, we can be connected on LinkedIn, since I’ll never post anything but work-related stuff there. If we socialize, or I find them fantastically entertaining, then they may get in Facebook or Google+. If I get unfriended, I don’t worry about it and probably don’t even notice.

    I think it’s natural for people to form cliques at work. It only becomes a problem when it interrupts the ability to get work done. As the workplace becomes more dehumanized, people will try to hold on to any power/authority they have.

    As stress increases, they may lash out, form coalitions against imaginary enemies and revert to tribal behaviors. That looks a lot like bullying most of the time. And it’s a symptom, not a disease.

  • #161268

    Faye Newsham


    I think of the Tim Allen movie, “Joe Somebody” and “Big Bully” with Rick Moranis and Tom Arnold which both feature office/workplace bullying. Those both featured powerful individual bullies (the classic large male with a long history of bullying from the school yard forward). Their power seemed to stem from their physical presence and personalities.

    The more recently identified “Queen Bee” syndrome of teen girls is an extension from the PTA mommy cliques of the 80s (IMOHO) with the main difference being the availability of a larger clique (online) and easy delivery method (social media) which separates the attacked from the attacker.

    Again, as others have noted, it isn’t the bullying that has changed, just the delivery method. I’m wondering, as Andrew alludes to, if it is symptomatic of the lesser emphasis individuals receive on getting along with a small, identified peer group (high school or college intimates). That group is now extensible to the entire online population. My youngest son who is 18 has now had two long-term (more than a year) “relationships” with girls he met online. Only one of whom he has subsequently actually met. His circle of friends is much wider than mine was at his age due to social media. That has some positive implications but also some negative ones. The chance of meeting a like-minded individual that enhances your poorer qualities is increased (as is your chance of enhancing the good ones, but we don’t tend to research those!).

    Rumors and idle chit-chat are simply easier to accomplish today. I think that HR departments should look into presenting anti-bullying materials somewhat like high schools do today (such as the “Bully” movie currently out?). As with many things, I hope this is cyclical and quick to die out.

  • #161266


    I think social media actually discourages illegal bullying since the information that protects against it can be easily posted to large numbers of employees at one time, and very open discussions often ensue.

    The negativity about government and the declining budgets are creating an increase in hostile work environments, with bullies crossing into every demographic, and victims not confined to a single protected group.

  • #161264

    Lloyd R. James

    How! Yes, I believe it. They are coming from the schools into the workplace.

    Get some ideas from the kid below

  • #161262

    Andrea Schneider


    I think this is a great topic, thanks for putting this up. Andrew posted it in the group on ‘Generations” and it definitely pushes my buttons. I’m not sure how to unpack what you are describing, from previous behaviors in workplaces, but it is disturbing and worth a conversation.

    Perhaps “Cliques, Clan & Cluster’s” in the current work environment has some social Darwinism in it, as well as insidious and explicit forms of bullying. How should management respond, how does an employee even describe this in ways that are actionable. This isn’t about a social life in the workplace, but emerging behaviors, however conscious or unconscious that are hurtful, exclusionary and demonstrate a clear lack of empathy for the different generation’s working together. I am in no way saying this is true for all or even many, but it’s enough true that it’s being discussed and felt.

  • #161260

    Emily Landsman

    Hi Carol,

    Last year in my office we held a mandatory half day training with a specialist about how to recognize and handle bullying in the workplace. 70+ people, 3 hours, I know we spent a lot of money on that. This actually came after the events I described, but by that point we already had a new HR director who was much more in tune with staff relationships. It was an interesting workshop, but not a whole lot changed after that unfortunately. Again, I saw it as a failure of the mid level managers.

    When we did this training I heard from a number of my colleagues in the DC area that they had had similar workshops at work.

    I should have said lots of funds are being spent on anti-bullying training, not really to point out trends.

  • #161258

    Jack Hernandez

    Many organizations invest resources into professional one-day seminars and/or training courses. Workplace bullying is a popular topic. I’ve observed that those attending these courses are often the “bullies” themselves who seem to be in utter denial, or they are totally aware of their behavior but attend the courses to reinforce a false impression to their coworkers. Some seem to simply be looking for an excuse to avoid work. Have these courses worked at my workplace? Not at all.

  • #161256

    Chris Cairns

    Wow, good analysis, Andrew. Now I am going to be looking for this phenomenon.

  • #161254

    Chris Cairns

    Give me all your GovLoop ranking points or I’ll IP flood you. I think there’s probably a stark generational difference between Y and whatever’s before that that will create unloving work environments in some cases.

  • #161252

    Peter Sperry

    It may be a generational thing, but I find the entire idea of “bullying’ that does not involve physical violence or intimidation to be somewhat counter-intuitive. Growing up, a bully was defined as a coward who abused those who were physically weaker than they were and grovelled to those who were stronger. The well known response was to resist them with whatever means necessary. If you did this and won, you proved yourself stronger and they would leave you alone. if you did this and lost, the rest of the group would almost always come to your aide and the group would prove stronger. Parent’s taught their children: “If you do not stand up for yourself, no one else will. If you do stand up for yourself, others will join you.” Running to authority figures was considered almost as cowardly as being a bully and an indication you lacked the backbone necessary to solve your own problems. And that was the attitude toward physical bullies. Verbal abuse simply drew the age old children’s chant “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” as you grew a thicker skin and walked away from the situation. Again, there was no need for intervention from authority figures and seeking their assistance was considered cowardly. The entire concept of non physical non verbal abuse was never discussed. Few if any people of my generation could conceive of the idea that you could be bullied without the offender actually saying or doing anything.

    Today, everything from negative comments to not being included in social circles to running into someone who is just having a bad day; generates an accusation of bullying. And of course it is the responsibility of authority figures from teachers and administrators in school to managers and executives at work to step in and make everyone play nice together. Because they have nothing better to do, like run the organization. Do the younger generations have such thin skins that every negative human interaction, no matter how trivial, becomes an act of bullying? Defriending someone on Facebook is bullying??? Really??? Finally, do they have no ability at all to stand up for themselves and put the offender in their place without expecting management to step in? You can’t look someone in the eye and say “that was rude and I won’t tolerate it” before walking away?

    Sorry, but I still think the best response for bullies of any type is grow a thicker skin and learn to stand up for yourself.

  • #161250

    Vanessa Vogel

    I agree that people are rude in the workforce. Cliques do emerge and people become friends with certain coworkers and more distant with others. This is apart of life. Like Peter said, we can call it bullying or say that someone was being rude or disrespectful. How we react and what we say depends on us. Like Peter said, is defending someone on Facebook really bullying? Defriending, cliques, and rude comments are apart of society unfortunately. It all depends on how we look at it. We need to say to ourselves, that was rude and walk away.

  • #161248

    Kevin Lanahan

    I would say that simply defriending someone is not bullying, but a group of coworkers deciding to defriend another coworker could be part of an organized method of exclusion, or shunning, which is a form of bullying.

    One scenario that I’ve seen played out in an office is one person, with a strong personality, decides not to like someone, then encourages others in his/her clique to also shun them. Failure to do so results in shunning of the person who doesn’t follow the leader.

  • #161246

    Peter Sperry

    So not being included in the cool kids clique at work is a form of bullying? Is it physical? Is it verbally abusive? Again, if this is the type of stuff that bothers the younger generations to the point they feel bullied and seek intervention from management; they need to grow a thicker skin and learn how to stand up for themselves. If they cannot handle something as trivial as office cliques, how will they ever stand up to irate customers, outraged elected officials, screaming protestors in the front office, the occasional white powder envelopes, the all too frequent bomb threat evacuations and the all the other facts of life that come with working in the real world?

  • #161244

    Andy Lowenthal

    I’ve worked in a number of federal and local government workplaces, and I’m always surprised at how relatively few of my colleagues are connected via social anything, but especially social media. I’ve found that once I leave an organization, then I’m more likely to connect with someone via Facebook (for example). To compare, I recently worked for a digital company in the private sector and it was practially part of your onboarding to connect with everyone via social.

    Either way, I agree with Corey that there have probably always been cliques or outside-of-work friendships, but social magnifies and publicizes them in a way that was previously unthinkable. If your COO, Deputy CIO, and 3 interns went out to happy hour in 2002, they wouldn’t have checked in on Facebook, Path, Instagram, or Twitter for everyone to see.

  • #161242

    Kevin Lanahan

    Peter, I’m not suggesting that anyone run to their supervisor because the mean girls are being mean.

    But I’d suggest that many people in the workplace today do not have the thick skin you’ve developed. I’d go so far as to say that if you showed up to work one day and nobody would make eye contact with you, talk to you or take a break with you, after a while you’d start to wonder what was up. And if it is a systematic way to isolate you, that is bullying.

    It is no different from the big kid that beats up another for their lunch money. Nobody can really help the kid getting beat up, because that person becomes the next target.

    There’s always cliques. That is normal behavior. But when a clique actively targets someone, that is a form of bullying. Not your definition, but behavior-wise, it’s no different.

    As I mentioned in a previous post, this behavior is the symptom, not the disease.

  • #161240

    Susan Pcola-Davis

    While in the doctor’s office today, I picked up the March/April 2012 issue of WebMD. On page 51, there is an article called Lone State: for kids on the playground and adults in the workplace, being left out hurts. “Exclusion is an insidious form of bullying, Purdue University pssychologist Kipling D. Williams, PhD, believes and harder to document because of the absence of behavior. Ostracism causes real pain, Williams says, because our basic need for belonging, self-esteem, control, and recognition is thwarted.” Check it out. I think those that have not been bullied in the workplace, do not have a way of understanding the concept. You almost have to experience it to understand how painful it can be.

  • #161238

    Sandra(Sandy) Crowe

    I’m actually one of those people that come in to do those kinds of presentations Emily. The reason they don’t work in the long run is because there is no reinforement after I leave. There is much head nodding while present, but if management is looking for a way around the issue and not willing to support it, the fire will burn. It bothered me enough that I actually wrote a book about taking responsibility called “I Didn’t Sign Up for This!: 7 Strategies for Dealing With Difficulty in Difficult Times”( When you hire someone to solve the problem on your desk that will still be there when they are gone, it’s not called problem solving, but problem evasion. I appreciated hearing your story and I think you handled it with maturity, grace, and awareness. Good for you!

  • #161236

    With all of the focus on bullying in our schools you have to wonder where do our kids pick up this behavior? Well, it comes at all ages and from all types of people and is alive and well in governement today. Gossip, bullying’s close relation is so harmful and often misinformed that it can destroy a person. But…what to do? I’ve never had a problem speaking up for myself or a peer, but when an upper level manager (above me) is allowed to elad by intimidation and outright nastiness how can you set the example? Maybe it’s just me but I find that it isn’t necessarily the under 30 crowd. I am 37 and in my group I am one of the younger employees in mid management. Older employees are just as bad & worse they have accumulated the power and position to make your life hell.

    Maybe I am off base – but to me a bully is a bully on the playground and in the office there are no age limits.

  • #161234

    I wish you could, but what do you do when the bully is above you? We have one person in our organization who inspires such fear and loathing for her e-mail slaps and verbal repremands that we all are going to party when she finally retires. It’s well known (and I mean well known) but her boss does nothing. If I were to say to her – hey, could you try saying this in a less contrite or nasty manner (her response I don’t have time to speak to you) and if I pushed or was even slightly more blunt – I can promise you it would be my butt for speaking in such a way to a superior.

  • #161232

    Marc Stedman


    This is a very interesting topic and the subject age group and experience level is of concern. If I may play devils advocate on this, I would like to understand if this demographic of bullies are receiving suitable mentoring and continuous professional development which would include professional ethical behaviour?

    In the authority I work for in the UK the average age of staffers has dropped considerably over the past two years due to the recession where the 55+ group have taken early retirement options. This has resulted in a number of 30+ staffers loosing their mentors and/or being forced on them greater responsibility without the necessary tools and experience.

    Personally I have not noticed this trend in my authority yet but my wife works in a private consultancy and I can identify this behaviour there now it has been highlighted.

    One to watch going forward.

    Keep up the positive actions and always lead by example.

    Warmest Regards

    Marc Stedman

  • #161230

    Mark Hammer

    Personally, I am disinclined to assign the word “bully”. It’s one of those words, like “racist”, “fascist”, “conservative”, “liberal”, or “terrorist” that neatly divides the world up into us and them, such that we can feel we have permission to heap as much scorn as we have in us, all the while not really getting anything done about whatever problem we think such individuals characterize, and usually ignoring the VERY fuzzy and elastic boundary between the two supposedly distinct groups. It’s just one of those eternal and universal human flaws.

    Are there people who are exasperatingly and unconscienably inconsiderate? You betcha. Are there people who reserve that extreme inconsiderateness for select individuals? Yes. Are there people whose inconsiderateness is somewhat more pervasive, extending to broader categories of people? Yes.

    Are there generational differences in, or some sort of steadily declining trend in, etiquette, politeness and social sensitivity? Conceivably. Etiquette IS a sort of hand-me-down from one generation to another, borne of realization that what goes around comes around, and needs some informal rules and proactive behaviour to avoid worst-case scenarios. Etiquette is a sort of foresight, derived from hindsight. We say “Please” and “Thank you” because we have come to understand the consequences of omitting those simple gestures from our social sphere.

    Margaret Mead suggested many years ago that, as culture-change accelerated, incoming generations would be more inclined to seek those with the most recent experience in the culture as their source of vital information, and less inclined to turn to elders (those with the most cumulative experience in the culture), the way they might if the culture was stable. So in a rapidly-changing culture, what older generations suggest as important is not necessarily viewed or accepted as imortant by more recent cohorts. And, to some extent, that would appear to include etiquette and the rudiments of politeness. One can usually see this illustrated in the, um, “vocabulary” of young people on public transit, who seem oblivious to the presence of other people, or other standards of civil discourse.

    I’m not trying to launch into a Clint-Eastwood-with-his-pants-hiked-up “kids today” diatribe, but I find Mead’s ideas prophetic, and provocative. I understand that subsequent generations will not find Mamie Van Doren quite as hot, the Beatles quite as moving, ’67 Mustangs quite as cool, 19″ colour televisions quite as snazzy, or $10/wk to just fritter away quite as appealing, but the question that arises is whether other things that earlier generations treat as important to pass on, like “good manners”, are also falling by the wayside, because they are seen as coming from an irrelevant source.

    Pete Sperry also made some earlier references to the impact of social media. Over the years, I’ve had to serve as peacemaker for a number of flame-outs on hobby-related forums (yes, I have hobbies beside writing interminably long posts here). What I frequently have to remind people is that if the participants were as rude and nasty to friends, family and co-workers in daily life as they are on-line, someone would have likely murdered them already. The social comportment we see in people’s e-presence is often distinct from their daily behaviour in “real life”, and individuals with handles that are ripping each other to shreds may well be quite able to sit and chat amicably together when they have faces and names.

    But that doesn’t mean that the sort of influences that anonymity and unlimited 140-character zingers (flung at unseen individuals) can have on people in the e-world NEVER start to bleed into their actual (rather than virtual) interaction with people. The same way that “locker-room talk” can find its way out of the locker room, leading to “What? It was just a joke! What is she so angry about? Can’t she take a joke?”, the slippery slope that the internet can provide to abandon all decency and considerateness, CAN find its way off the screen and into the coffee-lounge or meeting room. It happens, and folks need to be vigilant about it getting the better of them, before it replaces that with the worst.

    Finally, and boy will this seem tangential, developmental psychologist Judy Dunn has spent a big chunk of her career studying siblings, and social perspective-taking, among many other things. One provocative paper I read of hers some time back concerned the positive role that sibling conflicts can have. It wasn’t so much that fights were good. Rather, amicably-resolved conflicts led to increments in social perspective-taking skills that benefitted the social development of both parties. They provided an opportunity to get inside the feelings of others and anticipate them. Emotional Intelligence training, if you will. Of course, conflicts and power struggles that do not result in resolution via disclosure of the two party’s needs and wants is unlikely to assist social perspective taking, since it places too much focus on one’s self, and little on the other.

  • #161228

    Jerry Schmidt

    Social media is a tool. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – they are just tools. The only difference between a tool and a weapon is how it is used. I can build a house with a hammer; I can inflict an injury on someone’s person with the same hammer. If there are bullies, they are going to re-purpose the tools as weapons.

  • #161226


    Here is a link to my personal blog that goes into quite a bit of detail about the newly formed Anti-Bullying Congressional Caucus, mobbing vs, bullying, worldwide bullying statistics, and what steps an employee can take to protect against illegal bullying.

  • #161224

    Yes, I worked for a person who just crushed everyone below her. Unfortunately, just trying to survive in that environment took it’s toll. It wears on you and I started being a person I didn’t like in order to defend myself and coworkers. Had to leave. Sad that so many stayed because they were finally beat into believing they couldn’t work any place else because they didn’t have the skills. She could spew beautiful things to her bosses and other management and even after having every staf member quit in unison, they didn’t get rid of her. Just hire new people for her to torture. Like pulling wings off of butterflies. Interesting thing was, I was in her office when her mother called and within minutes she was in tears. Where did she get it from? Hmmm, I wonder. I never felt angry toward her as much as sad for her.

  • #161222

    Lloyd R. James

    How, yes office Bullying dose exist. Deal with them as individuals while recognizing them as a gang. Remember they need the support of the gang to feel like somebody. Strip them of their support. I write them up, file complaints with names, date and offence. Be prepared for retaliation (know all the players) and write them up too, file complaints with names, date and offence for retaliation. Expose them as a gang instead as professional workers. Research how to sue your boss [in small claims court]. Take it to the next level or venue; court of law. Most people understand what a lawsuit is. I have personnel experience deal with office bullies. Nobody goes to work to be bullied.

  • #161220

    Julie Chase

    That’ll be the day a millenial gets bratty on me. Unless my supervisor directs it, they can all go pound sand. The average age where I work, is about 47. There is one millenial and he knows the deal. I believe I would have more trouble with millenial females than males. The males seems to be attached to their electronic gadgets and the females are always looking to claw/gossip their way to the top.

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