Facts and Figures of Workplace Bullying

Worker standing in the middle of a target with her workplace colleagues surrounding her
••• Clerkenwell / Vetta / Getty Images

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) an organization that works to educate and combat workplace bullying, this aggressive action is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more people. The targets experience acts from one or more perpetrators. Bullying can take several forms or be a combination of several forms. These acts include:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct or behaviors—including nonverbal acts—which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference—sabotage—which prevents work from getting done.

What Is Workplace Bullying

One isolated incident does not constitute workplace bullying. This bullying behavior is generally has a persistent and prolonged in character. Some bullying actions are hidden and done in secret, while other actions are bolder and committed in the open view of others and without the fear of reprisals.

Workplace bullying has a devastating influence on the emotional well-being of the victim or target. The acts of the bully—or bullies—are a conscious behavior with the intention to harm the target. More than one person can combine to show aggression against a single target or several targets.

Many times, the bully will work within the confines of the firm's established policies. Also, most often, the aggressor is in a supervisory position within the company. However, they can be at any level of the organization. The negative effects of workplace bullying can spread throughout the company and impact performance on many levels.

Bullying Statistics

Workplace bullying is on the rise. While statistics vary, some studies reveal that nearly half of all American workers have been affected by workplace bullying, either as a target or as a witness to abusive behavior against a co-worker. Law firms and the legal workplace are, unfortunately, a breeding ground for bullies. The fast-paced, adversarial nature of ​litigation and other legal work attracts bullying personalities. Bullying personalities are typically over-ambitious, opportunistic, combative, powerful and competitive.

Types of Bullying

Bullying can take many forms. It encompasses personal attacks, such as yelling, threats, and rumors, as well as manipulation tactics, such as isolation, sabotage, micromanagement, and unrealistic deadlines. This list of various types of bullying outlines the various manifestations of workplace harassment.

Bullying Stories

Firsthand accounts of bullying and harassment in the workplace detail the stress, strife and devastation that workplace harassment can cause. Bullying takes a toll on the bully target in the form of stress-related health complications ranging from hypertension and auto-immune disorders to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide. A bullying environment stresses all employees, not just the target, and increases the rate of physical and emotional illnesses. Employers also pay a price for bullying in the form of lost productivity, increased absenteeism, rising health insurance costs and higher employee turnover.

Combating Bullying and Harassment

If you are a victim of workplace bullying or harassment or work in an abusive work environment, you should take action to combat bullying behavior. "Don't let the bully affect your self-esteem. Figure out if there is anything useful in the information the bully is providing. Even mean people might have a good idea now and then," states Dr. Robyn Odegaard, owner of a speaking/consulting company and the founder of the Stop The Drama! Campaign. Dr. Odegaard also recommends seeking assistance from human resources or your co-workers and remembering that you always have the option to leave.

Bullying Legislation

Currently, several states have reviewed and considered healthy workplace or anti-bullying legislation but no formal bill has been passed as of yet at the state or federal level, according to Angela J. Reddock, Esq., workplace expert and managing partner of the Reddock Law Group in Los Angeles, California. "Many employers have started to more seriously address the issue by placing strong anti-bullying policies in place," she says. For a detailed status of anti-bullying legislation in the United States and an analysis of relevant case law, see this overview of bullying legislation.

Since workplace bullying is not addressed by existing law, many groups advocate the need for additional laws regarding workplace harassment and abusive conduct. Various models for remedying workplace bullying have been proposed such as:

  • Creating a private right of action that would include the recovery of damages.
  • Creating a mechanism for injunctive relief similar to those relating to stalking, hate crimes or relief-from-abuse orders.
  • State enforcement similar to employment discrimination laws.