Workplace Bullying: Definition, Causes, and Remedies

Common reasons for workplace bullying, and how you can deal with it.

Workplace Bullying: Definition, Causes, and Remedies
Workplace Bullying

Over the last two years, many of us missed the good aspects of the physical office: the work friendships, the camaraderie, the brainstorming sessions, the ease of collaboration, and so on. But there are some things that none of us missed, and workplace bullying is one of them. So let’s try and understand what bullying entails and how it may impact an individual’s psyche and other important areas of their life.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying refers to repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more employees of an employee: abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse; or behaviours perceived as threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; work sabotage; or in some combination of the above. Workplace bullying now also expands to cyberbullying, where employees misuse information about their colleagues or spread rumours to defame the latter or to cause them trouble.

With social media being so invasive and hard to avoid, it has become difficult to separate one’s personal and professional life. This may lead to work colleagues getting easy access to your personal life, which in turn makes it extremely necessary to draw boundaries.

Know what qualifies as workplace bullying

What are the things involved in workplace bullying
What are the things involved in workplace bullying
  • Constantly picking on one person.
  • Making personal, derogatory, or offensive comments about someone.
  • Passing judgments based on an individual’s background such as their caste, gender, family status, etc.
  • Not respecting physical and emotional boundaries and invading them.
  • Using personal biases to hold back someone’s professional growth or opportunities given to them.
  • Hurting someone physically and/or emotionally to cause pain.
  • Humiliating someone in front of the group, singling out or completely cancelling someone by ignoring their inputs, opinions, and views in a discussion.
  • Constantly threatening someone about their job status, income, etc.

Apart from these signs, any act that makes an individual feel threatened, unsafe or uncomfortable may also constitute workplace bullying.

Also read: Workplace Violence and How to Prevent It

Investigative research by Richa Gupta, Arti Bakshi, and Stale Einarsen (2017) on employees from western and northern India found that 46% of employees were being bullied at work, either occasionally or frequently. These employees worked across multiple sectors like education, health, social service, and banking and insurance.

Another study was done specifically on the ITES-BPO sectors across Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi-National Capital Region, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Pune by Premilla D’Cruz and Charlotte Rayner (2012). The study found out that 44.3% of the employees experienced bullying and 19.7% said they had experienced moderate to severe bullying.

What are the possible causes of workplace bullying?


Dr. Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytical Theory of Personality theory talks about the ‘defense mechanisms’ that we may unconsciously use to deal with our problems. One such complex defense mechanism is called ‘displacement’, where a person copes with anxiety by transferring emotions onto an object/person who is less threatening.

For example, a team leader at their workplace may have a tough day at home, so they might take out their anger/exhaustion on their team members to gain back a sense of control. This behaviour can manifest as bullying.

Perceived sense of power

Bullying, dictating, and controlling are all behaviours that make an individual feel very powerful over another individual or situation. It creates a sense of control and authority within the bully. It can also create a ‘feel good’ impact on some.

Check out this article on Unconscious bias in the workplace

Being bullied

Sometimes, an individual who has been bullied may also develop a tendency to exact revenge for the way they have been treated before. It could also be a form of avenging the hurt or insult done to them.

Social environment and upbringing

The cultural factor plays a major role here. Financial trouble, violence at home, or an unstable life can have an impact on an individual’s personality and development. Parental neglect and strict treatment from the parents may also have adverse effects on an individual and the way they perceive the world around them.

Try Manah's free emotional wellbeing assessment now!

Casual bullying or ignorance

Sometimes there may not even be any reason for workplace bullying; it may arise from a lack of awareness about the harm it can cause to an individual. The bully might do it for fun or casually without realizing how much it impacts the other person.

Remedial strategies to deal with workplace bullying

Workplace support

Sharing your experience of workplace bullying with the concerned authorities or HR department will help you understand the policies and procedures that are in place to deal with bullying. It will also help you gain a sense of control to some extent.

Social support

It’s very important to have a safe space where you can talk about your experience. Be it friends, family, or colleagues, it is crucial to have someone around you who can listen without judgment and provide empathy and support.

Be supportive
Be supportive

Emotional support

It is extremely important for a victim of bullying to feel safe and grounded after having gone through such a tough experience. You can try to seek emotional support in various ways – e.g, by talking to a professional like a psychologist or a counselor.

Check this article to learn how you can support yourself with self-compassion

Prioritising yourself

Take your time to heal from the experience, but most importantly, understand that what happened was not your fault. Focus on the feeling and getting better and prioritise your needs.

Repeat: You are more than what happens to you

You are more than the problems you go through. Make sure you focus on your achievements and victories and even celebrate them. Do not apply negative labels or blame yourself. Instead, congratulate yourself for standing up to bullying.

Are you an HR or business head, an entrepreneur, or a team leader? If the well-being of your team is a priority, Manah can be your go-to partner. Do check out our services:

Wellbeing Ambassador Programme

Wellbeing Assessments for Employees

Employee therapy and counseling

Wellbeing challenges for organisations.

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