Identify Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is a lot more common than you may think—at least 20% of employees have dealt with it at one point.[1] This type of bullying behavior is no joke, and can lead to anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, not all types of bullying are created equal. Some types of bullying, while still hurtful and upsetting, are subtle, and can’t really be reported. Other types of bullying are more direct, and definitely reportable to a manager or HR rep. You can protect yourself, your coworkers, and even your employees (if you're a manager) by knowing the warning signs for workplace bullies, and by having a plan in place to deal with them.


Subtle Signs

  1. Are they making an effort to exclude certain people from things? Workplace bullying isn’t always obvious—it’s anything that makes you feel hurt or isolated, like exclusion. If a person is making a conscious effort to exclude certain employees from activities, then they could be a bully.[2]
    • For instance, a workplace bully might send an invite to an office-wide party but leave out someone from the email list.
    • A co-worker might invite several co-workers to an activity during lunch break, while leaving a specific employee out of the mix.
  2. Do they ignore you or stop their conversations when you’re around? Listen to the conversations going on around you. If people seem to quiet down or ignore you whenever you step into the room, they’re taking part in a more passive-aggressive type of workplace bullying.[3]
    • See if this kind of behavior happens on more than 1 instance. Conversations can end for a lot of different reasons, and may not be concrete proof of mistreatment on their own.
  3. Do they minimize other people in conversation? Workplace bullies like to degrade others, or make them feel like they aren’t a valuable part of the community. This can happen in a lot of ways—they might downplay a person’s idea in a meeting, or ignore high-quality work that’s presented to them. Look for signs that a fellow employee or superior is looking down on others.[4]
    • For example, a workplace bully might completely dismiss a new idea that’s suggested in a conversation,
    • Watch for repeated examples of this kind of behavior. In some cases, a fellow employee or superior might be dismissing your ideas for a completely unrelated reason.
  4. Do they spread rumors about other employees? Workplace bullies love to sow discord in the workplace, even if it’s just through casual conversation. Listen for pointless, needless gossip being spread about other people in the workplace. If someone is constantly gossiping about others, then they’re probably engaging in bullying behavior.[5]
    • For instance, a bully might say something like, “Did you hear Rose got yelled at by the boss? I think she’s going to get fired.”
  5. Do they steal credit for other people’s work? Watch how a fellow employee or superior handles themselves in the workplace. Do they hand in high-quality work, or do they tend to piggyback off other people? If they’re consistently stealing other people’s ideas, or wrongfully taking credit, then they could be a bully.[6]
    • For example, if you work hard on the company newsletter but another employee takes credit for it, they’d be indirectly bullying you by stealing your spotlight.
  6. Are they overwhelmingly harsh or critical to an employee? Bullying criticism can be tough to identify at first—after all, pretty much every workplace will give out constructive criticism at some point. Instead, look for employees that are constantly giving harsh feedback to their co-workers or subordinates. Constant belittling and pointless criticism are signs of workplace bullying.[7]
    • Criticism is hard to pinpoint in some circumstances. Some managers may be extra harsh on someone with poor job performance, instead of singling someone out intentionally.[8]
  7. Are they targeting a specific employee with unfair tasks? Certain colleagues or managers might saddle employees with ridiculous amounts of work with short deadlines. If a manager is consistently singling out the same person to do more work than their fellow co-workers, then they might be a bully.[9]
    • For example, 1 employee might be given 4 hours' worth of work assignments, while other employees with the same job position are only assigned 2 hours' worth of work.
    • These bullying tactics can be tricky to pinpoint. For instance, if you work at a store during a holiday rush, you’re probably going to have a bigger workload than you normally do.

Obvious Signs

  1. Do they show aggression toward other employees? Watch for obvious signs of bullying, like verbal abuse, intimidation, yelling, cursing, or slamming their hands down in someone’s workspace. If the person lacks basic human respect and decency, it’s pretty safe to say that they’re showing bullying behavior.
    • For example, a workplace bully might crowd someone’s workspace while yelling obscenities at them.
    • Some bullies will threaten physical harm at the workplace, which is a big red flag.
  2. Do they use a lot of offensive language? Workplace bullies might use a lot of crude, offensive language that’s uncomfortable to listen to. They might share offensive jokes that target a certain group of people.
    • Bullies might target their jokes at certain employees.
  3. Do they invade other people’s privacy? Workplace bullies may do all sorts of sneaky things, like rifling through someone’s handbag or workspace, or spying on them during work. They might also nag the person throughout the workday, or follow them around constantly. If a person has no sense of personal boundaries or privacy, there’s a good chance that they’re a workplace bully.
    • For example, a bully might look over your shoulder while you’re sending a text or an email, or sneak onto your work computer when you’re not around.
    • They might also follow you around and refuse to leave you alone.
  4. Do they “pick on” other people a lot? Unfortunately, schoolyard bullying isn’t limited to kids and teens—plenty of adult bullies resort to petty nicknames and insults, too. Watch and listen for co-workers that seem to heckle and jeer at other employees a lot.[10]
    • For instance, a workplace bully might single out a co-worker with a condescending nickname, like “honey” or “sweetie.”
  5. Do they belittle or humiliate their peers? Workplace bullies love to make people feel worthless and will take any opportunity to get their jabs in. They might make comments to embarrass a certain employee in front of others or make obviously rude and degrading comments.[11]
    • For example, a bully might say something like, “Look at what Anne did!” or “I can’t believe you did something like this.”
  6. Do they sabotage or withhold information from other employees? Sneakier workplace bullies might hide information from a certain employee, or they might not share the full story. They’ll typically do this to target and sabotage another employee’s success.
    • For instance, a toxic bully might not send a memo about an upcoming meeting to a certain employee.
  7. Do they repeatedly deny someone new opportunities? Bullying isn't limited to your colleagues—unfortunately, managers and supervisors can be workplace bullies, too. They may refuse to give a promotion to a hard-working employee, or prevent certain groups of people from getting new opportunities. Keep an eye on how your boss treats certain workers compared to others so you can get a feel for what’s going on.[12]
    • For example, a long-time employee might get passed over for a promotion that’s given to a less-qualified co-worker.
    • A manager might send several employees to a seminar but leave 1 employee out.
    • Unfortunately, this isn’t a hard and fast sign of workplace bullying. In some cases, a manager might promote someone else because they’re more or equally qualified for the job.

How to Handle Bullying

  1. Write down each time you experience bullying at work. Dedicate a special notebook or document to any bullying you experience at work. Jot down the date, time, what exactly happened, and who was involved. This is a great way to stay prepared and get ahead if you choose to report the bully later on.[13]
    • For instance, you can write something like: “September 4 - 12:00 PM: Karen specifically stopped and looked over my shoulder while I was checking email. It really felt like she was invading my privacy.”
  2. Address the bully directly when they target you. Standing up for yourself takes a lot of courage and resolve, but it might stop the bully in their tracks. Politely correct the individual and let them know that you aren’t okay with their behavior.[14] Your goal isn’t to start an argument or big conflict—you just want to show the bully that targeting and harassing you isn’t worth their time or effort.[15]
    • For example, if a coworker calls you “sweetie” at work, say something like, “I don’t like being called that. Please call me by my actual name.”
    • You might also say something like, “I’d appreciate it if you don’t look over my shoulder while I’m checking my email. It’s a really big invasion of my privacy.”
    • You could also say, “I don’t know if it was intentional, but I was really offended when you blatantly ignored me during the group meeting. In the future, can you try to be a little more considerate?”
    • You can tell them that their behavior may result in an intervention if it continues.[16]
  3. Report the behavior to a manager or HR if you’re an employee. Bring your bullying log with you when you visit the HR representative or manager.[17] Let them know what’s going on, and see what can be done to make your situation a little better.[18]
    • In some places, workplace bullying is against the law. You might have some legal rights if you’re being bullied badly at work.
  4. Tackle bullying at the source if you’re an employer. Set up a no-tolerance anti-bullying rule at your workplace that’s enforced by all higher-level employees. If you see any bullying happening at work, call out the problematic individual right away and punish them.[19] Punishment can range from docking pay, writing up a report, or firing the employee—it really depends on the behavior in question.[20]
    • For instance, if the workplace bully is valuable to the workplace, you might write them up. If their behavior is really harming their coworkers, you might fire the employee altogether.
    • Awareness campaigns are a great way to shine a spotlight on workplace bullying.[21]
    • Don’t be afraid to reassign problematic employees to new posts.
  5. Speak to your loved ones for emotional support. Let your friends and family know what’s going on at work, and how it’s affecting your physical and mental health. They can offer a listening ear, and provide you with lots of guidance, reassurance, and love.[22]


  • Some workplace bullies get their kicks by being a bad influence. They might try to strongarm a fellow employee to do something else that blatantly bends or breaks the rules.[23]
  • Check your employee handbook to see what kinds of options you have.
  • As an employer, consult the victims as you decide how to handle the bully.[24]


  • Don’t retaliate or get revenge on the bully, as tempting as it might be. This will only make the situation a lot tougher to deal with.


  14. [v161197_b01]. 25 November 2019.
  16. [v161197_b01]. 25 November 2019.
  18. [v161197_b01]. 25 November 2019.