Grown-Up Bullies: Management Fights Back

Bullies aren’t just a problem in schoolyards and online. In the past decade, the workplace bully has come under scrutiny. Though laws are in place to protect workers from sexual harassment and discrimination, company managers are still struggling to deal with adult bullies in the workplace.

Spotting a Bully

Like all bullying, workplace bullying can come in a variety of forms. Overt forms of bullying, such as harassment, verbal abuse and threatening are easy to detect. More subtle variations can be harder to notice, but managers should watch for signs. Use the tips below to size up potential bullying situations. Look out for:

  • Employees who take sole credit for or sabotage group projects.
  • Employees who dominate meetings with interruptions, sarcasm and negativity.
  • Aggressive body language.
  • Fearful co-workers.
  • Mobbing—when a group teams up against a co-worker.
  • Groups that ostracize another co-worker.
  • Team leaders who overrule decisions without a rationale.

Am I the Bully?

According to staffing agency The McIntyre Group, more than 35 percent of workers report having been bullied at work. Employees felt bullied by their bosses in almost 75 percent of those cases. Those in a position of power are often the ones benefitting from bullying, since this behavior can enable them to get the results they want. However, this behavior ultimately leads to a workforce with low morale and poor productivity. It’s important that managers self-assess their behavior and try to be objective. Examples of good questions for managers to ask themselves are:

  • When I present ideas in meetings, does everyone automatically agree with me?
  • Is the turnover rate in my department higher than in others?
  • Are my employees absent so much that it negatively affects productivity?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, managers should look at themselves as a potential factor in these problems.

Taking a Stand  


Since 2003, 24 states have introduced the Healthy Workplace Bill, but no laws have been enacted yet. However, individual companies would do well to consider adding a bullying policy or refining existing harassment policies to include workplace bullying. Human resources and managers who wish to take up this task should be sure to have the C-level executives on board with the initiative.

If a company does not have a bullying policy, managers can help ease the effects of workplace bullying through the manner by which they respond to complaints. Managers should be sure to let workers know that they are available. If a worker has a complaint, supervisors should take appropriate action; when workers are told to handle it on their own, it can make them feel as though they should just accept the way they’re treated. Furthermore, it is imperative that managers respond consistently to bullying complaints. Showing preferential treatment can foster resentment and poison morale.

It’s not easy managing a workforce. Group dynamics and business ethics can be difficult to balance with personal opinions and ambitions. A strong manager puts the team first. If you’re interested in management, Brescia University’s online master’s in management can help you navigate the ins and outs of forging a group into a team.

Established in 1950, Brescia University is a Catholic, liberal arts institution founded in the Ursuline tradition of personal and social transformation through education. With the advent of BUonline, Brescia brings accredited undergraduate and graduate programs to students across the nation. Brescia’s commitment to a student-centered environment rewards students who seek success through meaningful careers and service to others.