Workplace bullying is the repeated, deliberate mistreatment of a person at work. This may involve hostile, intimidating, or offensive behavior.

A person may experience workplace bullying from a subordinate, a supervisor, or a colleague. People may not always recognize that they are experiencing bullying behavior, as it can be subtle. This may create a sense of self-doubt.

Supervisors and managers can minimize and discourage workplace bullying by demonstrating a commitment to what they deem to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

This article discusses examples of workplace bullying and ways to help a person cope.

This article includes personal stories from Dr. Kubanych Takyrbashev, wellness advisor at NAO.

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Workplace bullying is the persistent mistreatment of another person or people in the workplace. It can include:

  • verbal abuse
  • threatening or intimidating behavior
  • humiliation
  • sabotage

Workplace bullying can range from subtle behaviors, such as microaggressions, to more extreme behaviors, such as sexual harassment or discrimination.

Learn about microaggressions in the workplace.

Because workplace bullying can be subtle, a person may not know whether the behavior they are experiencing fits the description.

Workplace bullying can take multiple forms. If a person is experiencing repeated behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable at work, they may be experiencing workplace bullying.

Dr. Takyrbashev’s story: My experience with workplace bullying

Examples of workplace bullying I experienced included instances where colleagues publicly belittled my contributions, undermined my authority in front of patients and other staff, and engaged in passive-aggressive behavior such as withholding crucial information or excluding me from important meetings.

Gaslighting tactics were evident when certain colleagues denied or downplayed events that had occurred, causing confusion and self-doubt.

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Subtle signs

Subtle signs of workplace bullying a person can look out for include:

  • Deceit: This may involve intentionally withholding the truth or giving a person the wrong information.
  • Undermining work: This could include deliberately delaying or sabotaging another person’s work.
  • Setting impossible or constantly changing expectations: A superior may give a person large amounts of work that are unrealistic or impossible to complete.
  • Excessive criticism: A person may repeatedly criticize another person’s work or ideas without reason.
  • Exclusion: This might involve deliberately excluding a person from meetings or social functions.

Obvious signs

Some more obvious examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Aggression: A person may yell or exhibit anger in other ways, verbally or nonverbally.
  • Threats: This might involve threatening to fire a person or discipline them. In more extreme cases, a person may threaten physical, emotional, or psychological abuse.
  • Belittling: An individual may persistently disparage a person or their work, opinions, or personal circumstances.
  • Embarrassment: This might include degrading or humiliating an employee publicly.
  • Offensive communication: This may involve using profanities, making demeaning jokes, spreading rumors or gossip, or engaging in verbal harassment.
  • Blocking advancement or growth: A person might inhibit another’s progression in the organization.

Workplace bullying can negatively affect a person in several ways, both mentally and physically.

There also may be an effect on other people in the workplace and the organization as a whole.

Mental health risks

A person experiencing bullying at work might experience an increase in the following:

The mental health effects of being bullied may lead a person to develop conditions such as depression and anxiety.

A person might experience the following as a result:

Dr. Takyrbashev’s story: How workplace bullying affected my health

The workplace bullying took a toll on both my mental and physical health.

Mentally, I experienced heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and emotional distress.

Physically, I suffered from headaches, insomnia, and digestive issues due to the persistent stress and anxiety caused by the hostile work environment.

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Physical health risks

Workplace bullying can also have physical effects, such as:

Job performance and work culture

Workplace bullying can negatively affect work performance and the wider organization.

A person who is experiencing bullying may demonstrate a reduction in productivity or work quality. They may avoid going to work or need to take a higher number of sick days due to health conditions that can occur as a result of bullying.

Research suggests creativity and adaptability can help a business succeed. However, when a person is experiencing bullying, they may be less likely to demonstrate creativity and innovation at work.

Workplace bullying can also lead to reduced morale among the workforce and may damage the company’s reputation. The business may also have to pay legal fees if they do not deal with bullying effectively.

Dr. Takyrbashev’s story: How workplace bullying affected my job performance

Workplace bullying significantly affected my job performance.

I found it challenging to concentrate and remain focused on my tasks due to my constant preoccupation with the negative dynamics in the workplace. This led to a decrease in productivity and efficiency, as well as a diminished ability to provide the level of compassionate care that patients deserved.

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A person experiencing workplace bullying can take several steps to help protect themselves.

Setting boundaries

Bullying can involve breaking emotional and physical boundaries.

Setting and enforcing personal boundaries in the event of workplace bullying can include:

  • asking a person to take a step back if they stand too close
  • using a physical boundary, such as a desk, to maintain some physical space
  • putting a stop to conversations that feel invasive

Confronting behavior

Sometimes, a person may not realize they are demonstrating bullying behaviors. Talking with them may help them realize they are causing harm.

It may help to tell the person their behavior is unacceptable and ask them to stop. The person experiencing the bullying may wish to ask a person they trust, such as a supervisor or union member, to be there for this conversation.

Making a formal complaint

A person may wish to make a formal complaint about bullying with management or HR. The organization may have a grievance procedure that the person will need to follow.

It may help to keep a record or diary of experiences of bullying as they happen. This may become useful if a person decides to make a formal complaint or take further action later.


Workplace bullying can have a negative effect on a person’s mental, emotional, and social well-being. Practicing self-care may help a person manage any physical or mental health effects they experience as a result.

Dr. Takyrbashev’s story: How I ultimately coped with workplace bullying

Coping with workplace bullying involves seeking therapy to rebuild self-esteem and assertiveness skills. I also cultivated a strong support network outside work and explored mindfulness practices to manage stress.

Ultimately, I gathered the courage to address the issue directly with HR and management, advocating for a resolution to the bullying behavior and implementing strategies to create a more supportive and respectful work environment.

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There are several steps employers can take to confront workplace bullying, including:

  • educating employees about bullying behavior
  • encouraging employees to report any bullying
  • having an open-door policy for discussing employee concerns
  • taking any complaints of bullying seriously and investigating appropriately
  • addressing any confirmed examples of bullying

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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Workplace bullying is the persistent, deliberate mistreatment of a person in the workplace that may be intimidating, hostile, or offensive. It can range from subtle to extreme behaviors and may include deliberately trying to sabotage, humiliate, or intimidate a person.

Workplace bullying can lead to depression, anxiety, headaches, withdrawal from family and friends, and reduced performance at work.

There are several ways a person can cope with workplace bullying, including speaking with the person displaying the behavior and setting boundaries. Employers need to help prevent and reduce workplace bullying by addressing bullying behaviors and educating employees.