Workplace Bullying: Let’s Break the Silence

If someone asks you about “bullying”, your memory may pull you back to your school days of witnessing such behaviour occurring, or even being bullied yourself. One might presume that this challenge would have been left behind following high school graduation. Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to experts, “40% of Canadians have experienced one of more acts of workplace bullying at least once a week for the last six months” (CBC, 2011).

What is bullying?

Bullying can take on many different verbal or physical forms, sometimes aimed at hurting or isolating a person. Common themes summarize bullying as repeated, unreasonable behaviours that negatively affect the health of the victim (i.e., the person being targeted by the bully). Bullying behaviour is “intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people”, and can even take on the form of “assertion of power through aggression” (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2015). Bullies may be colleagues of the victim, but they may also be the victim’s manager or supervisor (Smith, 2014).

What does bullying look like in the workplace?

Bullying behaviour can take the form of verbal/ written/ physical harassment or abuse, including the spreading of gossip, jokes, or rumours. Other examples may include social isolation, intimidation, unreasonable or unfair criticism, subtle put-downs, belittling a person, and undermining or deliberately impeding a person or their work (i.e. blocking/ denying promotion/ leave/ training applications). Other behaviour may include constantly changing work guidelines, withholding information, or purposefully giving misinformation. Bullying behaviour can also take the form of unfair monitoring of a person or their work performances, the misapplication of work policies, or being set-up for failure (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2015; Forbes, 2008; McLay, 2009). Defining examples of bullying behaviour is challenging due to the many forms that it may take on. For more information, the organization WAVE (Workplaces Against Violence in Employment) has provided a comprehensive list of bullying behaviours (WAVE, N.D).

What are the effects of bullying?

While some bullying behaviour can seem trivial, the constant and repeated effects can have a profound and significant impact upon a person’s mental and physical well being. The results of which can cause a person to experience a wide array of emotions including shock, anger, and frustration, to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and even suicide. Stress-related illnesses can include sleep challenges, loss of appetite, headaches/ migraines, and stomach aches. Anxiety may also ensue, and could lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Anxiety may be directly related to going to the workplace, or it may even transpire in related situations that bring up similar emotions, beliefs, and thoughts. The effects of the bullying behaviour may also creep into the victim’s family life, and negatively influence their relationships with others external to the workplace, such as their partner or children (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2015; Forbes, 2008; McLay 2009).

Bullying thrives in silence.

Bullying behaviour can cause the victim to be silenced into accepting such treatment due to fear, or concern for his or her career prospects. Colleagues of the victim may also be forced into silence, which inadvertently allows the bullying behaviour to continue. Many companies have anti-bullying policies, but unfortunately, unless these policies are upheld and followed, the policy is ineffective. Employers who are aware of the bullying behaviour but do not sufficiently protect victims, stop the bullying behaviour, or allow it to continue through inaction, are negligent and inadvertently create a bully-tolerant workplace. Employers and managers have a social responsibility, and duty to act and deal with bullying decisively.


If you or someone you know is experiencing workplace bullying, psychologists at Calgary Career Counselling are available to provide you with counselling help and support.

If you are being bullied, you can take action to protect yourself:

  1. Keep a factual diary of events, including dates/ times, a description of the incident, outcome, and if there were witnesses.
  2. Keep copies of emails, memos, notes, or letters that you receive from the bully. It is recommended that you forward such email correspondence to a private email address, one that is external to your current workplace.
  3. Resist the urge to retaliate, as it may appear that you are the bully.
  4. Do not let the bully isolate you. Confide in trusted co-workers, family, and friends, and stay connected with your colleagues.
  5. Keep copies of your performance reviews and continue to work to the best of your ability.
  6. Review your company’s policy and procedures to understand their anti-bullying policy. Consider contacting HR, or your supervisor (if safe to do so) for support.
  7. If the situation continues, report this behaviour to your HR department or appropriate person. If action is not taken, escalate your concerns to the next level of management, always in a factual manner.

If you are the victim of bullying, or have witnessed bullying behaviour: Remember to take courage and speak out! Silence enables bullies to continue their intimidation and ability to control their victim. Everyone in the workplace has a responsibility to create and encourage a bully-intolerant workplace.

If this article highlighted some challenges that you are experiencing in your life currently, or it raises upsetting memories from the past, we encourage you to contact Calgary Career Counselling for further help and support. Calgary Career Counselling provides both career and personal counselling. Reach us at 403-261-5085 or


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