Author / business / leadership / Personality

Bullying in the Workplace

In a previous post we discussed anger and its impact on the workplace. Not surprisingly, we had several requests asking for a paper on bullying. While we could simply examine the prevalence and impact of bullying, I had the opportunity to talk to Rabbi Irit Printz from A World Without Bullying and Nicholas Babiuk, who served as the Program Director of Trails Youth Initiative prior to joining the Witz team. Together with Greg Witz, President of Witz Education, we explore the topic of bullying and what can be done to stop it. All original sources are hyperlinked through the article should you want more information.

What is bullying?

In the 44-page “Bullying in the Workplace” handbook published by the Ontario Safety Association for Community and Healthcare, “bullying is defined as repeated, persistent, continuous behavior as opposed to a single negative act and is general associated with a power imbalance between the victim and perpetrator, where the victim feels inferior.”

“To be bullied requires the persistent repetition of a damaging interaction”, says Rabbi Printz. “These behaviors can be intentional or unintentional. For example, what one person considers an inside joke could actually be perceived as bullying by the other person”.

Nicholas Babiuk agrees. “A relationship exists between the two. You generally have one individual creating a sense of personal empowerment through disempowering the other, which may be unintentional.”

Mark Bania, managing director at, reported that their 2012 Harris Interactive study showed victims identified their bully as a co-worker (24%) or their boss (23%), with 55% being younger than their bully.

The study also found victims define bullying in a number of ways. While 50% feel bullied when they feel different standards or policies are being used for them over others, 49% define it as being ignored and 29% feel bullying is when they are gossiped about. You can see some of the other bullying tactics reported here.

“It boils down to their perception of what bullying is.”, says Bania. In other words, if you feel you are being bullied, you probably are.

What is the personality of the bully?

While we all have an idea of what a bully looks or behaves like, we must also understand how his or her personality contributes to bully behavior.

“Often bullies experience low self-esteem and self-confidence, using the demoralization of others to feel secure,” Greg Witz tells me.

“Looking at personality through transactional analysis, one might see this type of behavior in someone with high Critical Parent, Spontaneous Child, and Angry Child scores paired with low Nurturing Parent. In other words, these people can be very direct and blunt, potentially aggressive, and may not necessarily perceive how their actions are affecting others. Pair this with a social personality who has the “gift-of-the-gab” and you have someone who could very easily hide behind different masks depending on the situation.”

Gary McDougall, a facilitator at Conflict Solutions and a retired hostage negotiator for the Calgary Police Force, agrees. In an interview with Canadian Occupational Safety, he describes bullies as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, vicious and vindictive when alone with their victim but innocent and supportive when people are around. It’s part of the reason that bullies are successful at climbing the corporate ladder.

What are the signs of bullying?

As described above, bullying can take form in a number of ways. Some bullying is overt and the victim is fully aware of being bullied. Other times bullying is more subtle, such as:

  • being excluded from meetings or communications
  • resources being withheld
  • unusual changes in workload
  • people keeping their distance
  • sudden change in performance reviews
  • criticism has changed to personal attacks

“In these instances, it may be difficult for coworkers and managers to see the bullying occurring,” says Rabbi Printz.  “We need to look for changes in behavior, things like higher employee turnover, high absenteeism or sick days, “work to rule” attitude among employees, decreased unsolicited contributions from employees, and an increase of “problem employees” in performance reviews. The first four can also be exhibited by those with bullying in their immediate environment as they try to fly under the radar.”

The article continues at Witz Education, providing the cost of bullying to an organization and what can be done to stop it.

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