Recognizing and Responding to Bullying at Work

Bullying is a form of abuse and harassment. The bully at work could be your co-workers, managers, supervisors, doctors, patients and/or their families.

Examples of Bullying include:

  • Verbal and physical threats/often behind closed doors
  • Unfair use of discipline
  • Blocking promotions or requests for time off
  • Excessive supervision
  • Undermining responsibility or being set up to fail
  • Spreading malicious rumors
  • Physical Isolation from co-workers
  • Verbal abuse such as: Swearing, racial or sexual slurs, angry intimidating words, verbal humiliation and/or demeaning comments in public or private

Don’t ignore the behavior-Don’t suffer alone
Tell others you trust and ask for help to develop a plan to address the bullying

Suggested responses include:

  • Keep a diary with dates, incidents, behaviors and comments
  • Ask people you trust for help: co-workers, union representatives, your manager, human resource personnel, the worker ombudsman if available
  • Address the situation by speaking to the bully Let it be known that the behavior is unacceptable
  • For additional direction and emotional support contact an available Employee Assistance Program through your employer or through your personal health insurance company
  • Learn all you can about workplace bullying one very useful resources is

Fact Sheet prepared by the MNA Workplace Violence and Abuse Prevention Task Force in cooperation with Chris King, RN Student, Regis College

How Bullies Pick their Targets
Research shows that bullies find their targets systematically. That system follows the dynamics of power and control, i.e. the need to exert power over someone they believe they can control.

Bullies often believe themselves empowered due to size, gender or societal or work related authority. Research identifies the frequent roles of big/small, male/female, doctor/ nurse, supervisor/worker as frequent bully/target dynamic.

It is important for the person who is the target of the bully whether at work, at home or on the street, to understand the dynamic that is at work in their situation as they attempt to work through and eliminate this abuse.

Co-worker Response
As with any event of workplace violence it is important to listen to the victim, encourage reporting and developing a response plan and most of all, be kind and available when the victim needs to talk.

Employer Response
Currently bullying, in and of itself does not reach to the level of a legal punishable offense. Your employer’s sexual harassment and workplace violence prevention policies may apply in some situations.

Additional Resources

  • The Bully at Work, Gary Namie, Ruth Namie, April 2000, available in paperback
  • Power Freaks, David L. Weiner, Robert E. Lefton, September 2002, available in paperback
  • Your Boss is Not Your Mother, Debra Mandel, PhD, March 2006, available in paperback

Permission granted to reprint with acknowledgement Massachusetts Nurses Association 06/06

sc 6/27/06