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How to Prevent Workplace Bullying

How to Prevent Workplace Bullying

After leaving behind the cliques and gossip of high school, many people forget about the threat and consequences of bullying. Unfortunately, research from a Zogby International Study shows that 35% of U.S. adult employees experience a different kind of bullying — workplace bullying.

Bullying in an office environment is different from what we remember seeing as children. Adults often demonstrate less physically aggressive forms of bullying and childish tactics such as stealing a co-workers lunch money. Workplace bullying is harder to spot, but don’t be fooled — it has the same potential to cause extreme emotional stress.

So, when this kind of bullying happens, how can you spot it? And more importantly, how can you prevent it?

The Effects of Bullying

Before we focus on prevention, let’s take a moment to understand the effect bullying can have on a workplace.

Workplace bullying drains employees emotionally, making them feel unwelcome or even unsafe at their job. This can quickly take a toll on their self-confidence and mental health, making it difficult for them to live a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Many employees also feel uncomfortable speaking up about being bullied for fear of retaliation, forcing them to continue to suffer in silence, stuck in a negative feedback loop.

Workplace bullying doesn’t only affect your employees at a personal level — it can quickly start to affect your company. Experts say that between decreased levels of productivity, increased absences and even a higher turnover rate, workplace bullying can cost businesses more than $200 billion a year.

These abusive behaviors have both emotional and monetary consequences, which make it important for both your company and the health of your employees to prevent workplace bullying in the first place.

Know The Signs

To determine if workplace bullying is happening at your organization, you must first learn to spot the signs that it’s happening. According to Julie Moriarty, the former Senior Vice President of Training and Awareness at Navex Global, workplace bullying can be broken into three categories:

Co-Worker Sabotage

The first type of workplace bullying is co-worker sabotage. The extent to which this can be present may vary from workplace to workplace, but some major signs of co-worker sabotage include:

  • Rumor Spreading: A workplace bully may start talking behind a victim’s back in a negative way, especially to superiors or management.
  • Setting Victims Up: Bullies may also purposefully set a victim up for failure. This can include demanding a last-minute deadline, giving a victim “busy work” projects that take their attention away from their work or assigning a project and refusing to provide necessary resources to complete it.
  • Scapegoating: In their mind, a workplace bully is rarely, if ever, at fault. If someone is consistently blaming their failures on another co-worker without evidence to back it up, this could be a sign of scapegoating.

Hurtful Teasing 

The second type of workplace bullying, hurtful teasing, is harder to spot because it can often mask itself as joking. Signs of hurtful teasing include: 

  • Verbal Humiliation: A bully may go out of their way to shame a victim publicly. Verbal humiliation differs from simple joking in two ways — in the victim’s response and the bully’s intent. Be aware that bullies may refuse to take responsibility for their words, insisting they weren’t being serious or that the victim not be so sensitive.
  • Name Calling: Name calling is an escalation of verbal humiliation and can vary from a simple teasing nickname to offensive, explicit monikers.
  • Pranks: When you hear “office prank”, you might think of “The Office” episode when Jim put Dwight’s stapler in a Jell-O mold. Harmless, right? Office pranks can start as fun, but they can also escalate to an unprofessional level. They should never impede an employee’s ability to come to work and do their job.


A bully using intimidation will attempt to exert control over a victim in several possible ways. Signs of intimidation include: 

  • Ignoring and Isolating: A workplace bully can sometimes wield power by saying nothing at all. By purposefully ignoring a victim, a bully can impede a victim from doing their job and cause a victim to feel helpless and isolated. Bullies may also exclude a victim from necessary conversations, important meetings or social office events.
  • Manipulation of Roles: Victims are often hesitant to come forward about the treatment they’re receiving due to fears of retaliation. A workplace bully may threaten their target’s job security or impede their growth in the company.
  • Aggressive Behavior: Aggressive behavior makes a victim feel emotionally or physically unsafe at work and can include anything from an invasion of personal space to shouting and physical attacks.

Proactive Prevention 

In order to prevent these hurtful acts, it is necessary to have concrete policies that address workplace bullying. As previously mentioned, bullying victims may not feel comfortable coming forward about being bullied, and this feeling can be intensified when there is no clear protocol for submitting a report.

Now, if a victim does come forward and there are no bullying policies to follow, this can create an uncomfortable situation for the victim, the alleged bully and any managers or co-workers involved. Without a clear structure in place, a manager may feel unsure of how to proceed, and the alleged bully may feel attacked. Because of this, many complaints in this situation will be swept under the rug, only putting the victim in a more dangerous position.

A workplace bullying policy should give a clear set of directions of how your company would like a bullying complaint to be submitted — whom they should speak to, what they should provide and how it will be processed. This policy should be easily accessible, communicated often and ensure that every bullying complaint will be taken seriously and properly investigated. The final step is to present a clear path of the next steps your organization will take to provide transparency to relieve the victim’s stress and create accountability to follow through with your investigation.

When building bullying policies, you may feel comfortable writing them on your own, but you can also rely on outside providers. Insurance provider like IPMG can be an invaluable resource to help you craft policies and provide the support needed to protect your organization against lawsuits.

By giving a potential victim a concrete structure to follow when filing a complaint and promising fairness throughout the process, your organization will give employees the confidence to come forward about their bully.

Stay Vigilant

After creating a workplace bullying policy for your company to follow, it’s your job to stay vigilant. Keep an eye out for those being victimized and continue to establish an office environment that is supportive and trusting. It’s essential that victims of bullying feel comfortable coming forward. 

If you’re looking for guidance on more ways to keep your workplace bullying-free, contact IPMG. Our Risk Management Services are here to offer a wealth of resources on creating procedures and keeping your office environment safe.