Workplace Culture

Bullying Continues to Be a Pervasive Threat in the Workplace

By Alexis Carpello

Nov. 13, 2017

workplace bullying
Workplace bullying remains pervasive despite educational efforts.

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work interference (sabotage) which prevents work from getting done, or verbal abuse.”

One published report stated that most of the time when bullying occurs in the workplace the bullies are attacking the employee who is the strongest asset of the company. A decade ago a study done by Judy Blando from University of Phoenix revealed showed that 75 percent of employees said they had been affected by workplace bullying. Ten years later another bullying study, this one by CareerBuilder surveying LGBT workers, indicated that four out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers report feeling bullied.

American businesses don’t understand the severity of workplace bullying, said Gary Namie, a social psychologist and director of the Workplace Bullying Institute.

“American business doesn’t see it as a negative when they testify against our proposed legislation. They basically say don’t interfere with our right to manage people as we need to,” Namie said. “Now what that says is they believe American employers believe abusive conduct is an essential part of organizational life, and it is, it’s pretty common.”

LGBT employees report some of the highest percentages when it comes to being bullied at work, the study noted. Two out of five LGBT employees report that they feel bullied at work. Some 56 percent of bullied LGBT workers report being bullied repeatedly.

Female employees are 66 percent of the targets when it comes to workplace bullying, according to the 2017 National Survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute.

Namie explained how workplace bullying training adds little value to preventing bullying.

“The way that the state agencies are handling the mandated training is basically an illustration or two of bullying, and all that’s doing is teaching people how to bully,” Namie said.

The way employees are trained on bullying and the punishment for such actions is not working, according to Namie. Bullying is allowed to thrive at work.

“The key to breaking bullying is reinforcement. The reinforcement that bullying gets, the positive reinforcement is what sustains it,” Namie said. “In other words change the bullying into trouble for the perpetrator instead of trouble for complainants. Complainants are petrified to complain because just like sexual harassment, there’s fear of retaliation.”

Namie continued to explain how workplace bullying can be solved and stopped, there just have to be laws put in place for it. Currently Tennessee, Utah and California are the only states with laws passed stating that workplace bullying is illegal, according to Labor and Employment Law Counsel. Considering just three states have regulations in place it follows that many workplaces don’t take bullying as a serious issue since most states do not have these laws.

Namie said that bullying has proven to be everywhere, even places that are supposed to be safe areas like the workplace.

There are solutions that employers can bring into their workplace. Enforcing policies is the main step.

“The full comprehensive solution is you have to have the policy, you educate, then you faithfully enforce it at all levels,” Namie said. “Then you integrate the values in the policy in your performance appraisal so that we can stop saying to people, such as professors and physicians, ‘I know he’s cruel but he’s brilliant.’ Cut out the brilliant, there are brilliant people who are also kind.”

Alexis Carpello is a Workforce intern. Comment below or email

Alexis Carpello is a Workforce intern.

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