How to Know if You Are Being Bullied at Work (and What to do About It)

It’s National Stop Bullying Day, which for many of us may evoke visions of stolen lunch money and playground shenanigans. We tend to think of bullying as a concept concerning children and youth, as though adults eventually grow out of it.

Unfortunately, the reality is that National Stop Bullying Day isn’t just for kids—it’s for adults, too. Bullying doesn’t disappear when we leave school. In fact, a 2014 study conducted by Career Builder found that 45% of Canadians claim to have experienced workplace bullying. Bullying is different from harassment in that it is technically legal, and not every company has a code of conduct in place to prevent it. Since bullying is so hard to define, many people don’t even realize it’s happening at all, which makes them more vulnerable and gets in the way when they finally ask for help.

Even when employees realize they’re being bullied, they might be afraid to speak up, whether because they don’t think anything will be done, or because they feel ashamed of how they are being treated. This leaves the bully free to continue their toxic behaviour, while leaving the victim essentially powerless.

Workplace bullying isn’t just upsetting; it can be unhealthy, too. The constant stress it causes can lead to invisible symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, depression, and reduced productivity. In particularly serious cases, it can even lead to high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and appetite loss. The longer the situation is left unchecked, the worse it will get. That’s why it’s important to watch out for signs of bullying, assess the situation, and reach out for help if necessary.

Do you feel physically sick at the beginning of each work week? Are you feeling constantly undermined and dismissed? Do you dread any interaction with a specific person or department? If you answered yes to any of these, you might be experiencing workplace bullying. Read on to find out what to look for (and what to do once you find it).


Are you being ignored?

Your emails remain unanswered or even unread. The files you sent “didn’t go through,” or you’re locked into an eternal game of phone tag. While emails really do bounce and phone calls are often missed for genuine reasons, a coworker who is virtually impossible to get in touch with is probably ignoring you.

Of course, this behaviour can be less subtle. Perhaps a coworker is consistently overlooking your feedback or refusing to address you directly during meetings. It’s much more difficult to pretend innocence in face-to-face communication, but it’s not impossible.

If you’re dealing with any of these scenarios, there’s a good chance you’re being ghosted.



DECSA promotes an abuse-free environment through policies on respect.

You’re in trouble…but why?

You made a trivial mistake at work, and have now had your hours cut. You were dismissed from a project halfway through with little or no explanation. Your role and responsibilities have changed suddenly without warning or justification.

If any of these have happened to you, it sounds as though you’ve been punished without proper disciplinary procedure. If your work is unsatisfactory or if you’ve made a mistake, you need to be informed of the details, and the actions taken have to be within your company’s formal policies. If someone at work is arbitrarily altering your shifts or responsibilities but isn’t telling you why (or isn’t giving you a reason that fits the punishment), you’re probably being bullied.


Is there someone looking over your shoulder?

Micromanagement is relatively common in the workplace. Many of us have had supervisors who were a little too fond of hovering. Still, if you’re the only one being micromanaged, it’s not a good sign.

Constant micromanagement can make you feel undermined and untrustworthy. If someone is always checking your work, questioning your decisions, and telling you exactly how to do your job in an obviously critical way, it can be difficult to be productive at all. Selective micromanagement is a form of bullying because it sends the message that you, personally, are incompetent and need more supervision than everyone else. That’s a very stressful situation to work through, and is never healthy.


Feeling small?

Whenever you express concerns, they’re dismissed immediately. If you share an idea, it’s shot down right away. When you do excellent work, others take the credit, or leave your contributions out altogether because they’re not considered important enough.

Minimization takes many forms, and is complicated because it can come from any coworkers at any level. Even your subordinate can make you feel insignificant. Things can get even worse if your whole team gets involved, for example. If half the people in your office are determined to trivialize everything you say and do, it can be hard to see the point of coming into work at all. The message is loud and clear: you’re not welcome.

Personal Attacks

Have things gotten personal?

Your coworkers make backhanded comments about your personal life. Your supervisor fails to assign you any difficult work because you have a disability. Your coworkers make gender-related jokes you’re uncomfortable with in the lunchroom, expecting you to play along.

What’s outside the office should stay there, but some employees blend personal and professional life in ways that can harm and degrade others. Deliberately using knowledge of your personal life to disparage you at work is an overt and dangerous form of bullying, which should be addressed as soon as it happens.

What You Should Do

Addressing workplace bullying is a multi-step process. It can get a little complicated, and it won’t be the same for every case. Here is a starting point, though.

  • Take stock of your situation: are you being bullied? Is this an isolated incident?
  • Don’t blame yourself: while there’s something to be said for recognizing your part in workplace conflict, know that bullying is always unacceptable and is never deserved.
  • Don’t fail to act: bullies don’t decide to stop their behaviour one day and leave you alone. The situation will not change unless you make it happen.
  • Take a mental health day: stay home, if you can, to rest and regroup. Figure out what your next steps will be and prepare for them.
  • Gather proof: if there’s a paper trail, an email, a voicemail or any other piece of evidence, have it ready.
  • Talk to the bully: if you feel safe doing so, you can always confront the person or people who are bullying you. They might not even realize their behaviour is bothering you.
  • Speak to a neutral third party: if speaking to the bully didn’t resolve the issue, find another individual within the organization who can support you. Consult your Human Resources department, if your organization has one.
  • Know your rights: you should familiarize yourself with company policy on bullying and harassment, so you can argue your case should the need arise.
  • Set up a safety net: know that there’s a chance nothing will be done about the situation. Explore other options, like a transfer, that will separate you from the perpetrator(s).
  • Know when to quit: sometimes, the situation might be so dire that you need to walk away from your job. While this might seem devastating, it’s even worse to stay in an environment that is making you miserable. Conflict resolution is important, but so is your health.

Posted on October 12, 2016, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. it’s just that I stumbled across this post and had a read of it and now here is a comment. I was bullied in my early secondary school years from year7 to year10 it only really came to a head in year10 and I found that at the time it’s not just kids who are cruel and who bully but staff can too. the deputy principal used to single me out about my interactions with others I will acknowledge I played some role in it but that’s beside the point. I never told a soul for 3 years but the straw that broke the camel’s back was when a year7 boy decided he would find it funny to push me up some stairs. I was pushed into the back of a year7 girl who was sitting at her locker. All was fine until I’d been in class for a little while then the deputy principal came and took me out of class and imposed yet another 2 day suspention which ironically I’d just returned from a suspention that day. a meeting was to be held to decide my future at the school as it was aledged I’d groped a girl on the breast this I strenuously denied until after that meeting the truth came out that the boy who had caused me this actually changed his story I was relieved but a councillor I was seeing at the time asked if I would consider changing schools although the question was earlier on I finally felt I had little choice but to say go with swapping schools. I couldn’t tell a soul because if I told I’d be made out that I was the problem but I know for a fact the school was the problem not me. it’s all very well to have strategies in place to deal with bullying but when you feel forced to keep it to yourself you haven’t got a choice

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