Workplace Bullying

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The work environment involves the people employees work with and their attitudes and behaviors. Workplaces could become very mentally, emotionally, or physically challenging to work in if coworkers’ or supervisors’ attitudes and behaviors are demeaning or abusive. These behaviors could constitute workplace bullying. According to prior research done by the WorkLife Office, workplace bullying is persistent, unwelcome behavior that creates a hostile, intimidating, or toxic workplace (Roberts, Bennett, & Girdwood, 2020, p. 1)

Bullying in the workplace is any action that makes the target feel unwelcome or attacked, aggressively or passive-aggressively, or makes the workplace feel hostile or unwelcoming to them (Roberts, Bennett, & Girdwood, 2020, p. 2). Most behaviors that can constitute bullying behavior can be sorted into three categories: work-related bullying, person-related bullying, and physically intimidating bullying (Roberts, Bennett, & Girdwood, 2020, p. 3). The difference between work-related and person-related bullying behavior is if the harassment is tied to employees’ work and ability to do their job well or if it is tied to who they are as a person, their reputation, or their personality. The other type of bullying behaviors are physically intimidating ones, which are physically intimidating behaviors or threats. 

Workplace bullying can result in a toxic workplace overall, in addition to more individual negative outcomes. For example, workplace bullying can cause reduced productivity and job satisfaction, increased stress levels, and mental health problems, such as increasing the likelihood of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or PTSD, or cause poor concentration. Also, bullying can result in higher turnover, increased likelihood of headaches, and potential for sleep disorders (Roberts, Bennett, & Girdwood, 2020, p. 3). The bullying target is not the only individual who can experience these outcomes of bullying (Roberts, Bennett, & Girdwood, 2020, p. 3).  Employees who are not the target but experience the hostile work environment created by the bully can also experience these outcomes. 

Some solutions employees can try to implement are providing workplace bullying prevention trainings and workshops, surveying employees about workplace climate, and management and supervisors modeling respectful behavior (Roberts, Bennett, & Girdwood, 2020, p. 5). Additionally, implementing a process for addressing concerns and filing complaints can help employees feel heard and increase the efficiency of dealing with bullying situations.

At a Glance

Workplace bullying is:

  • Persistent, unwelcome behavior that creates a hostile, intimidating, or toxic workplace
  • Often involves a power difference between the bully and the target
  • Considered discrimination if based on a protected class

Bullying in the workplace can look like:

  • Any action that is pervasive and repetitive, has no legitimate purpose, and makes the target feel unwelcome or attacked, aggressively or passive-aggressively, or makes the workplace feel hostile or unwelcoming to them
  • Work-related bullying
  • Person-related bullying
  • Physically intimidating bullying

Outcomes of workplace bullying:

  • Reduced productivity
  • Reduced job satisfaction 
  • Increased stress levels
  • Increased mental health problems
  • Poor concentration 
  • Increased likelihood of good employees leaving their jobs to escape the toxic work environment
  • Increased likelihood of medical complications and absenteeism
  • The bullying target is not the only individual who can experience these; even employees who witness or observe bullying or are only experiencing the hostile work environment can experience these outcomes

Solutions for workplace bullying:

  • Providing workplace bullying prevention training
  • Surveying the workplace climate
  • Management and supervisors modeling respectful behavior
  • Implementing a process for addressing concerns and filing complaints
  • Be an Active Bystander

MSU In Action

Some resources on campus that can aid in solving workplace bullying situations are the Office of Institutional Equity, the Employee Assistance Program, the WorkLife Office, and employees’ unions or Human Resources. The Office of Institutional Equity reviews concerns related to discrimination and harassment, including workplace bullying based on a protected class. Filing a claim with them can help root out bullying situations if employees need a third party to help. Specific to bullying situations, the Employee Assistance Program offers counseling on work and employment situations, such as dealing with a toxic work environment or a workplace bullying situation, as well as stress reduction classes. In the WorkLife Office, staff provides one-on-one consultations to aid in navigating workplace situations, such as a toxic workplace or a workplace bullying situation. These consultations are mainly focused on providing resources, advice, and referrals, not the counseling services that EAP offers. There are also many resources on the WorkLife Office website for workplace bullying and creating a good culture within workplaces. For specific resources on workplace bullying, visit https://worklife.msu.edu/workplace-culture. The WorkLife Office launched a new website, called Toward a Respectful Workplace, to improve workplace bullying and harassment situations, as well as increasing positivity and respect in the workplace.  

Additionally, the WorkLife Office offers presentations on boundaries in the workplace, being a good colleague, professionalism in the workplace, and creating psychological safety and having good communication with work teams, among many other presentation options. See the inside cover for information on how to request a presentation. Employees’ unions or Human Resources can also help resolve a bullying situation by filing a grievance or acting as a third party similar to the Office of Institutional Equity. Workplaces should not be locations that make employees feel unwelcome or targeted; employees do not need to live within a bullying situation or a toxic workplace or deal with them alone. These resources on campus should be able to help resolve challenging situations that employees may face.  

Resources on Campus

  • Employee Assistance Program
    • Offers free, confidential, short term counseling (six sessions) for MSU employees, their spouses or partners, and their children
    • EAP also offers counseling on work and employment situations, such as dealing with a toxic work environment or a workplace bullying situation, as well as stress reduction classes
    • Visit https://eap.msu.edu/services for more information on the services EAP offers
  • WorkLife Office
    • Staff provide one on one consultations to aid in navigating workplace situations, such as a toxic workplace or a workplace bullying situation
      • These consultations are mainly focused on providing resources, advice, and referrals
      • Visit this link to request a 1 on 1 consultation
    • There are many resources on the WorkLife Office website for workplace bullying and creating a good culture within workplaces
    • The WorkLife Office launched a new website, called Toward a Respectful Workplace, to improve workplace bullying and harassment situations, as well as increasing positivity and respect in the workplace
    • Staff offer presentations on boundaries in the workplace, being a good colleague, professionalism in the workplace, and creating psychological safety, and having good communication with work teams, among many other presentation options
      • See the introduction page for information on how to request a presentation for MSU units
  • MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity
  • Employees’ Unions or MSU Human Resources

References

Roberts, B., Bennett, H., & Girdwood, J. (2020, March). Bullying in the workplace: Background and a call to action. Michigan State University WorkLife Office. https://michiganstate.sharepoint.com/sites/MSUWorkLife/Shared%20Documents/_Work/Workplace%20Culture/2020%20Workplace%20Bullying%20v2.pdf?csf=1&e=tGxPMH&cid=4cde24dc-3925-4363-a45d-dd070c50fbfc

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