Adults Get Bullied, Too!

Posted: January 16, 2018 Author: Patti Dipanfilo

We all know bullying is a rampant problem in our schools, and most everyone – from students to political leaders – is working on effective ways to combat that issue. But did you know bullying can be a problem in the workplace as well? Yes, adults can be victims of bullying, too!Stock photo from

The American Psychological Association defines bullying as “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort.” Discomfort is the operative word when it comes to bullies at work. There are several types of adult bullies and different ways they bully others.

One type is the physical bully. These bullies may simulate violence, such as raising a hand like they’re going to hit you or throwing objects in your direction. They may sexually harass you, violate your personal space or loom over you. Some of these bullies use their titles or positions of authority to intimidate or harass others.

Verbal bullies use words to make people uncomfortable. They might threaten, shame, insult or tease you in a hostile way. Maybe they criticize you constantly or use sarcasm, or racist, sexist or other demeaning language to dominate or humiliate you.

Passive-aggressive bullies are harder to spot because they do their bullying on the sly. These bullies behave OK outwardly, but bully subtly. These are the people who spread gossip and lies about you, and use condescending eye contact, facial expressions and gestures toward you. They might deliberately try to embarrass you, leave you out at social gatherings or sabotage your work, success and advancement.

Secondary, or ancillary, bullies are also common in the workplace. These are the employees who don’t initiate the bullying, but join in on the abuse. Secondary bullies generally participate in the bullying to suck up to the primary bullies in order to avoid becoming victims themselves.

Don’t forget cyber bullies. They’re at work, too. A lot of these verbal and passive-aggressive behaviors can be spread through company email, websites and social media, as well as by phone and text. Without intervention, it becomes a living, breathing cycle of abuse.

There’s are negative emotional and psychological impacts of bullying in the workplace. It’s pretty obvious it can lead to reduced job performance. But studies show it can also result in anxiety, depression and even PTSD in the person at the center of that abusive cycle.

What are you supposed to do if you’re getting bullied at work? This article includes ten tips for dealing with workplace bullies, and it’s worth a quick read. Here is a small sampling of its list of solutions:

  • Don’t get emotional. Bullies thrive on getting others all worked up, so stay calm and rational. It may help diffuse the situation.
  • Document everything. This tip is common to many of the articles I read on the subject of dealing with workplace bullies. Keep a journal or diary, something in writing, that notes everything that occurred with dates. If things get really bad, take it to Human Resources. Don’t leave your journal in the office, though.
  • Get counseling. Talking about what’s happening to you will help you manage the stress. This is especially important if you’ve already started feeling anxious or depressed. Some companies have counseling services available on site or close by for their employees.
  • Do your best work. If a bully is trying to make you look bad, don’t make it easier for him or her with a poor performance on the job. Don’t do things you can control like come in late, take long lunches or miss deadlines on your projects.

These steps and the others in the article may not change things right away, so be patient. Also, be assertive. If you consistently present a confident self and remain calm, your bully may back down. He or she is not going to change, but your reaction to them can, and that can make a world of difference for you.

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