How to Deal with Workplace Bullies


Most people who are targeted by bullies try to deal with the problem for almost two years before leaving the job. According to Harrison Psychological Associates, the cost to employers of that two-year period adds up to $180 million, in part because bullying makes productivity go down. Bullying is also a huge time waster. It’s hard to work if someone is actively and continually attacking you, after all, and it’s also hard to do what you’re supposed to if much of your time is spent tormenting someone else.


Most bullies are poor managers who think that the best way to manage is through intimidation and fear. According to one recent study, those managers who were surveyed thought that the following factors played a contributing role to bullying at work:

• Lack of managerial skill (66%)

• Personality (57%) • Authoritarian management style (56%)

• Inaction when bullying occurs (37%)

• Too much work, work that the employee is not qualified to do, and unrealistic standards or deadlines (27%)

An insecure manager without adequate training who thinks being a good boss means being arbitrary, demanding, and unpleasant is a prime candidate for becoming the local bully and making life miserable throughout your office.


When you’re younger, those who are perceived as different or weak are targets for bullies. Adult bullies in the workplace, however, have a different agenda: they still target perceived threats, but it’s the threat of excellence instead of the threat of diversity.

Someone who is productive, intelligent, honest, capable, and well-liked can make a bully look bad by comparison. This is especially true if the bully is a manager, and the target is someone who brings real ability to the company. As a result, the bully wants to control or get rid of the target instead of doing some constructive mentoring instead. Which employee do you want to keep and reward? The bright, personable, productive target, or the intimidating manager who thinks bullying is either a good way to manage or an effective self-preservation technique?


Bullying is not just a schoolyard problem. This is a big enough issue that it presents a key problem for your company to solve. Yes, you can neglect it; that’s what many companies do. They don’t interfere, or sometimes they even criticize the bully’s target for not being more productive or for not doing a better job of handling the bully’s attacks.

Unfortunately, however, bullying is usually not something that can be stopped effectively by the target; an employee does not have the necessary clout, especially if the bully is at a higher organizational level. The Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute says the percentage of those who will choose to solve the problem by leaving the company is at 70%.

Leaving an abusive job might be a great solution for your employee, but guess who’s on the losing side of the deal? You are. Not only have you lost a valuable person, you’ve also got all the costs of finding someone new and training that person to fill the hole. Worse, you haven’t solved the problem that caused the bully’s target to leave, so you may see the whole cycle start over again. And then there are the legal risks. Bullying represents a rich field of opportunity for lawyers.

Of course, the main reason people let bullies get away with bad behavior is not because they like or approve of the behavior. It is difficult and unpleasant at the best of times to tell people they need to change. In How to Deal with Workplace Bullies Bullying and the Risk of Legal Action the case of talking to a known bully, you already know the bully can be awful to deal with; the entire conversation could blow up in your face. It’s no wonder, then, that so many companies avoid a blowup by never even starting the conversation.


The single most important thing you can do as the owner of a company is to make sure you do something to solve the problem instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. You have to hold bullies accountable for their conduct. Ignoring bullying behavior, or even rewarding it, sends a chilling and repressive message throughout your company’s culture. It also increases your liability from a legal point of view. When it comes to bullying , courts expect you to have both a policy against it and a clear path for resolving problems.

Get your managers some good training . They need to have a healthy model for managing employees that doesn’t involve bullying. They also need to be able to evaluate the social environment at work so they can specifically challenge negative and harmful behaviors such as bullying. In particular, they need to understand the situation well enough so that they don’t inadvertently give the target a poor performance review. After all, the problem behind inadequate productivity is not the person being bullied, it’s the person who created an impossible work environment.

Educate employees about bullying so it’s clear what is, and is not, acceptable behavior at your company. Write an anti-harassment policy, and make sure that someone who is being attacked can go as high within the company as necessary in order to solve the problem. If an employee’s manager is the source of the problem, you can’t reasonably expect that the same manager is going to be willing to fix things for that employee. Encourage people to talk to management when bullying occurs, and be willing to let the person who has been targeted transfer into another area of the company if that would effectively solve the situation. It’s better to have an employee change jobs than leave the company completely.