How to Put a Stop to Bullying in the Workplace

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Bullies destroy your company. Not only do they destroy the culture of your company, they destroy the ability of employees to produce their best work.

There is no more pernicious, destructive myth in the workplace than people who believe, “I push them hard, set high expectations and, yes, bully people to get the best out of them. But then they deliver their truly best work.”

In his Great Leadership blog, Dan McCarthy pointed to recent research showing it’s not just those who are actively bullied or abused who suffer. Those who merely witness the abuse also suffer. The bottom-line impacts also cannot be ignored.

The researchers found similar negative impacts of first-hand supervisory abuse and second-hand vicarious supervisory abuse: greater job frustration, tendency to abuse other coworkers, and a lack of perceived organizational support. In addition, the negative effects from either type of abuse were intensified if the coworker was a victim of both kinds of supervisory abuse.

Our research suggests that vicarious abusive supervision is as likely as abusive supervision to negatively affect desired outcomes, with the worst outcomes resulting when both vicarious abusive supervision and abusive supervision are present,’ the researchers said. ‘Top management needs further education regarding the potential impacts of vicarious abuse supervision on employees to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of such abuse.’”

2 steps to stop bullies

So what do you do about bullies in the workplace? Take these two actions, proactive and reactive.

  1. Remove the bully. Typically, I advocate for coaching, retraining and other similar measures. With bullies who have a history of bullying behavior, I do not. If you already have bullies in your organization, remove them. They are poison to your company, your team and your success.
  2. Encourage and support the “weird.” In a recent blog post, Seth Godin explained bullying is what happens when people with power try to make those who are “different” fit in – “I will punish you because you don’t fit in, and I will continue to punish you until you do.” To counteract this human tendency, create a culture in which the “weird” is actively encouraged. Seth explained it this way:

At the fabulous lab school in Manhattan, they’re making huge progress at undoing this problem. A recent assembly (organized and run by students and volunteers) was created around weirdness, fear and most of all, ‘owning it.’ … When students are given permission to be their best selves, they take it, just as you and I would like to. Because, it’s true, we are all weird. When there isn’t a race to fit in the most, bullying those that don’t fit in loses much of its power.”

Why is this critically important? Because it’s out of the “weird” and the different that innovation comes.

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Doing things the same way as everyone else leads to mediocrity. If you want innovation in your organization, be sure you are encouraging the weird in the face of tendencies to make others conform.

What kind of culture do you work in? Is bullying tolerated or is weirdness encouraged?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at


4 Comments on “How to Put a Stop to Bullying in the Workplace

  1. Sadly, I once had to leave a job where the owner had turned into a bully. The was no way to change him (I tried), and his bullying was escalating. Being the owner, there was no way to remove him. So I chose the next best thing, and I left.

  2. I’ve worked in several situations where the “removal of the bully” is impossible, especially when the bully owns the company, is the owner’s best friend, or the owner owes the bully a lot of money for helping the company launch.

    In many cases, if the owner isn’t also the bully, he’s too much of a coward to do anything. Sometimes, he’s the bully AND the coward.

  3. I’ve read a lot about workplace bullying, I’ve written a lot about workplace
    bullying, I’ve investigated complaints of workplace bullying, and I’ve been a
    target of bullying. Unfortunately, the sad truth is that many business leaders
    who have bullies in their midst are bullies themselves (some vicarious), and
    they DON’T CARE about this issue. I’m an HR professional, and this makes me
    absolutely insane. I’m glad to see this article, and God bless any business
    leader who takes your message to heart and does something positive. However, I’ve
    begun to direct my efforts to the targets, because they desperately need help
    coping, and their companies aren’t doing a damn thing.

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