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Protect Yourself From Bullies at Work


Bullies aren’t just a grade-school phenomenon; you’ll find bullies and bullying behavior in offices and workplaces, long after you’ve reached adulthood. If you are stuck working with a bully, there are ways to mitigate the damage and protect yourself.

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(Photo Credit: rycheme/Flickr)

Laurie Meyers points out in the American Psychological Association (APA) magazine, Monitor, that in order to deal with bullies we first need to define what is bullying behavior. This is challenging.

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What is Bullying?

Verbal abuse such as yelling or saying disparaging things is bullying. A manager may tell you your work is sub-par, but calling you an idiot is not appropriate. Bullying at work is also often more subtle; it can be about what somebody does not do. Perhaps you are not included or welcome at work-related social events. You walk into the break room and everybody stops talking and doesn’t look at you. This is designed to make you feel uncomfortable, but it is a difficult thing to complain about because they didn’t “do” anything. Not communicating with you is another form of bullying that can have a deleterious effect on your work if you don’t get the information you need to do your job well. 

Many places of work almost encourage bullying by chalking problems up to “personality conflicts” or taking the attitude that the victim needs to be tougher, know how to take it, or not be so sensitive.

As infantile as many bullying behaviors are, according to the APA they are all too common and may, literally, disable an employee. Some victims of bullying in the workplace have gone so far as to commit suicide. In less disastrous cases, people are unable to be productive at work, and the organization suffers even if management claims to not understand why.

Protect Yourself

The first way you can protect yourself from workplace bullies, if you are unlucky enough to be around them, is to know that it is not your fault. There is nothing wrong with you; there is something wrong with the bullies.

Bullies are cowards. They are often insecure and need to make themselves feel bigger by making you feel smaller. While they are the ones with problems, they are often able to cause problems for others. Being secure in the knowledge that you are not at fault will help keep you grounded.

Workplace dynamics result in a culture of bullying. There is the resident bully, the innocent victim, and fearful bystanders, who don’t want to get hurt, adopting apathy and looking the other way. This only empowers the bully. Bullies go after victims who seem weak or don’t stand up for themselves.

Standing up to the bully, showing that you do have a backbone, may earn you the bully’s respect. The bully is a coward, and doesn’t want you to fight back. Before you confront a bully, please make certain you are safe. You don’t want to be physically cornered, and you should have witnesses present who understand your situation.

Document everything. Write down what happened and what the bully said or did. This helps you if you need to discuss the situation with a manager or supervisor. Write things down as they happen, so you don’t get into arguments down the road about what “really happened.”

Sometimes it is necessary to consult with law enforcement, legal services, or counseling. The bottom line is you do not have to tolerate being victimized.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have bullies in your workplace? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Maxwell PintoRoxanaWilma DrummondPayScale Recent comment authors
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Roxana, we’re so sorry to hear about your situation. Please reach out to local authorities if you’re feeling threatened. They’ll be better able to give you specific advice on how to protect yourself and your family.


What about bullies elsewhere? My step kids step father has bullies me on at least 4 desperate occassions. This last time I asked him 3 times to step away from my car and he kept on harassing me. I felt threatened especially since my children were in the car. He felt the need to stop me from driving away and picked a fight with me. I don’t know if that’s enough for a restraining order but at this point I’m… Read more »

Wilma Drummond
Wilma Drummond

There is a bully at the office I volunteer . He demonstrates aggressive behavior, going so far as to curse openly at the owner, offers suggestive threats, and sends the owner Text messages stating how he can’t stand me for coming in changing things. He had demonstrated this behavior on numerous occasions & verbally I have asked him (politely) not to speak to me in his aggressive disrespectful tone(s). Further, he agitated the administrative assistant to contribute to his misbehavior.… Read more »

Maxwell Pinto
Maxwell Pinto

Targets, victims and witnesses of bullying have a few avenues to pursue (as compared with victims of sexual harassment) when subjected to bullying, i.e., repeated and obvious acts of aggression, spreading malicious rumours, excluding someone socially or from certain projects, undermining or impeding a person’s work or opinions, insulting a person’s habits, attitudes, or private life and intruding upon a person’s privacy. Others include being rude or belligerent, destroying property, assaulting an individual, or setting impossible deadlines. Although bullying is… Read more »

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