Bullying in the Workplace: Who Bullies Whom?

Over 40% of employees in the workplace have experienced bullying, a persistent pattern of behavior that intimidates, degrades or otherwise undermines the wellbeing of the target. Bullying is four times more prevalent than sexual abuse, and, according to a study at the University of Manitoba, the outcomes for victims of bullying are worse than are those for sexual abuse victims.

So who are the bullies? And who are the targets? It’s easy to envision a quiet, introverted person as the victim of an outgoing, brash person. But it’s not that simple.

According to Arlene Vernon, HRxaminer, targets are often the best and the brightest: the most technically skilled, empathic, kindest – but unlikely to fight back. Incivility and aggression are often fueled by individual differences, such as introversion and extroversion. That doesn’t necessarily mean that most cases involve extroverts bullying introverts. Actually we don’t know that, as there is little research on this area at this time.  

However, bullying is most often from supervisor to subordinate, where even a fairly confident employee is reluctant to fight back. Given that extroverts are more likely to be promoted to leadership positions in the U.S., there is a chance that the scales are tipped in that direction.

But according to Vernon, bullying doesn’t have to be overt hostility. It can be covert; an introvert leader would be in a position to deny training or promotions, apply different standards, or block leave or time off. It can also be an employee-to-employee situation, as in malicious gossip, making false accusations, and stealing credit.

And what are the outcomes of bullying? Known results include stress, anxiety, depression, anger, aggression, panic attacks, and even suicidal thoughts, all negatively affecting a company’s wellness program. Even onlookers of bullying may be negatively affected.  

But that’s not all. There is increasing evidence that bullying is affecting workplace productivity, perhaps massively. Inability to concentrate or make decisions and absenteeism take their toll on productivity. Royal & Sun Alliance, the largest commercial insurance company in the United Kingdom, has suggested that absenteeism alone due to this kind of distress may cost businesses approximately eight to 10% of a company’s profits.

Then there are the costs of employee turnover, estimated at costing at least one-half of the employee’s salary to replace him or her. An estimated 70% of bullied employees leave, while an estimated 20% of witnesses to bullying also do so.

Rehabilitation of stressed employees, as well as legal costs, all add up.

Finally, a company can find its reputation damaged. People talk to other people. An unhappy employee is probably seeking comfort from friends and family, who then talk to others, and so on.

If a company develops a bad reputation for bullying, it could conceivably affect sales to the public.

So what are the solutions?  

We should follow the example of Scandinavian countries and Canada, which have enacted legislation against workplace aggression, just as there is now against sexual abuse in the U.S., allowing victims to report incidents, go to the union and take legal action.  

Training employees to recognize bullying would help create a climate in which bullying is less invisible.

Most of all, companies should work to create an environment in which individual differences are not just tolerated but celebrated, creating a cooperative and positive environment for all.

Are you aware of workplace bullying?  Have you had an experience you’d care to share?

Arlene Vernon, PHR, HRxaminer, in a talk to the Minnesota Council of Non-profits
David Yamada, Psychology and Work
Janet Fowler, “Financial Effects of Workplace Bullying” on Investopedia


Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.

Are you carrying some introvert baggage?

Personal note

Being different from other people is always stressful, and we’re all different from one another in a variety of ways.  It leads to misunderstandings, and even worse, to some of us evaluating others of us as being deficient in some way.

I often find myself being a mediator between people who don’t understand each other, and I particularly love standing up for people I believe are in the position of underdogs, particularly when I’m very familiar with the underdog position.

So here’s my latest attempt to make the world a more peaceful place.

Are you carrying some introvert baggage?11420798_s

Many people do; some of them are introverts, the others are extroverts.

The basic definition of an introvert is of someone who is very sensitive to external stimulation and needs to withdraw periodically because our energy is depleted by too much stimulation, whereas an extrovert is someone who goes out and seeks stimulation, often social stimulation, in order to be energized.

That being said, there are a lot of assumptions that go along with introversion, some of which I call “introvert baggage.”  Not all of the people who carry this baggage are introverts.

In “12 Most Expeditious Ways to Alienate Your Introverted Colleagues”, Beth Buelow describes  how non-introverts (ok, extroverts) unwittingly make life difficult for introverts and shut down any effective communication because of their assumptions. (See her full article HERE)

Included in her list are non-stop talking (to deal with the threat that silence may actually occur every now and then?), saying “You’re awfully quiet, aren’t you? or worse yet, “You’re shy, aren’t you?; forcing introverts to work in groups, socialize when they don’t want to, or basing an evaluation of their work solely on degree of participation; and assuming that the quieter behavior of an introvert is due to everything from indifference to stupidity to plotting.  Whew!  All that from the simple fact that some of us need to replenish one’s energy in private every now and then.

But introverts are complicit in this whole thing, too.  Instead of recognizing that what we are dealing with is an energy problem, and should be handled by setting aside quiet times to refuel, and by choosing our activities wisely, too many of us spend our lives in a kind of defensive crouch, trying to avoid human contact altogether, then wondering why we don’t feel loved or appreciated.

Too many of us say, “I don’t want to waste my time on idle chit-chat; I just want to have meaningful conversations and relationships, too.”

Well, I’ve got news for you.  It doesn’t happen that way. People need to connect; some of us more carefully and in smaller groups.  But we need to connect: to feel healthy, to feel whole, to feel love and joy, and yes, to do business, too. Connections don’t happen the minute two pairs of eyes meet; they take time to develop.

Here are some guidelines for getting rid of that extra baggage , and being a proud and confident introvert who can connect with others without being sucked into their lives:

  • Make sure your energy drain isn’t at least partially due to poor health habits, or to depression, for which you might want some counseling.
  • Select your outings carefully; time them when you can be sure your energy is at a high enough point to cope successfully;
  • Find things that energize you to do in advance.  I have music I love that energizes me.  Often, when going to an event where I will need to meet people and  be “out there”  I play it in the car,
  • Cultivate social skills so that when you are out you can meet others, find ways to connect, and determine whether that other person really is worth knowing.  Ask questions that allow them to do most of the talking. You don’t have to do it all the time.  If you do  (Gasp! Horrors!) get into a conversation you don’t particularly enjoy, you don’t have to continue it.  You don’t have to take the person home, for heaven’s sake.
  • Do not assume that you will know immediately whether or not someone is suitable to be the Prince or Princess of Your Heart, or the Emperor of your Entrepreneurship.  Whether in business or pleasure, a period of conversation and dating is essential to establishing a deeper relationship.
  • Finally, recognize that the more you set up these little encounters with others, the less threatening they will be because:

                 –  You will get better with practice
                 –  Each episode counts for less in the general scheme of things, as one awkward experience can be diluted by the sheer numbers.

Oh, and extroverts:  When we withdraw, don’t automatically assume we’re rejecting you. Learn to stop and listen when you are around a quiet person.  We can be gold mines of imagination and creativity and occasional oases of peace in your life.

The Confident Introvert

“What are they afraid of?” my department manager used to ask after meetings in which a number of department members sat, silent and resentful, while he was unaware that his habit of springing surprise agenda items and asking for an immediate decision was very upsetting to these talented, educated introverts. Understanding, appreciating and utilizing the skills of introversion are foreign ideas to some – even to introverts. Now you can read about it in
The Confident Introvert.
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