What constitutes workplace bullying?

Since workplace bullying can take so many forms, it's hard to assign a concrete definition to it. But here are some examples.

In a recent blog, I wrote about the prevalence of workplace bullying. Some of those who commented on the piece wondered exactly what constitutes bullying.

Since workplace bullying can take so many forms, it's hard to assign a concrete definition to it. After all, this isn't a matter of the guy in the next department taking your milk money.

However, like schoolyard bullying, workplace bullying involves people or groups of people who repeatedly exhibit aggression or inflict social ostracism, all within the established rules and policies of the organization. This could include verbal abuse, intimidating behavior, humiliating remarks, or career sabotage.

Workplace bullying can be subtle, as in this example that TechRepublic member maecuff describes:

"A new co-worker was showing me a process that I hadn't done before and told me (while I was taking notes) that if a programmer needed to take notes on ANYTHING then they shouldn't be a programmer. He refuses to use pen and paper for anything and pokes fun at people who do things 'The Amish' way."

Or it can be less than subtle, as in this example provided by TechRepublic member GSG:

"I worked in the same general area with a guy who tried to bully me. He was a domain admin, and would break into my PC and delete stuff, he verbally tried to humiliate me in front of my co-workers, made references to me being a female, and though I can't prove it, I'm sure he's the one that sent the email under my account to the whole dept announcing my resignation."

The Workplace Bullying Institute lists these 10 behaviors as the most common tactics used by workplace bullies:

  1. Falsely accused someone of "errors" not actually made (71 percent).
  2. Stared, glared, was nonverbally intimidating, and was clearly showing hostility (68 percent).
  3. Discounted the person's thoughts or feelings ("oh, that's silly") in meetings (64 percent).
  4. Used the "silent treatment" to "ice out" and separate from others (64 percent).
  5. Exhibited presumably uncontrollable mood swings in front of the group (61 percent).
  6. Made up own rules on the fly that even she/he did not follow (61 percent).
  7. Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality of completed work despite evidence (58 percent).
  8. Harshly and constantly criticized having a different standard for the target (57 percent).
  9. Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the person (56 percent).
  10. Encouraged people to turn against the person being tormented (55 percent).

On Monday, we'll talk about what to do if you're being bullied in the office.