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10 Signs You’re Being Bullied At Work + What To Do About It

Last updated on August 27, 2020

It seems that the bullying we might have witnessed (or experienced firsthand) on the school playground is being increasingly played out in the workplace. According to a national survey conducted in 2014 by the Workforce Bullying Institute, 27% of the respondents have current or past direct experience with abusive conduct at work.

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But even beyond those who reported their victimization, there are actually many people being bullied at work without even being aware of it. Is it possible that you have been a target?

While bullying is usually perpetrated by someone in a position of power and authority, peers and even subordinates have also known to engage in bullying. A bully is actually an insecure, paranoid, control-freak. Their aim is to diminish, belittle and ultimately demolish their “prey” through regular, persistent, and increasingly hostile behavior.

Here are ten clear signs that you’re being bullied:

1. You and your peers are treated according to inconsistent standards.

Others in your work group are receiving preferential treatment (e.g. flextime, “cherry” projects, travel perks and so on). Meanwhile, you find that most all of your requests along the same lines are denied without plausible explanation.

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2. Goals on a project are suddenly changed, and your progress is disregarded.

Say you’ve been given a directive with certain objectives, an ultimate goal and a timeline. You work hard and with focus only to find out, suddenly, that there’s a change in direction on the project. Your progress is not celebrated or applied to the new project, but not even taken into account.

3. Every decision you make is questioned, even the small ones.

In essence, you're constantly bombarded by excessive micromanaging. You don't feel like your intuition or choices are being trusted, and you can't explain why. Your boss and others hover over you much more than usual telling you what to do (and what not to do). You get the sense that you're wrongly perceived as unreliable, and your decision-making capability is greatly reduced as a result.

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4. You're socially alienated — without a valid explanation.

All of the sudden, you’re excluded from meetings you once attended. Reasons may be given, but are not warranted or easy to tether to concrete events or behaviors. Co-workers tend to avoid you and keep interaction to a minimum. You also may find that you’re no longer invited to after hour informal events.

5. You've experienced verbal abuse.

You’re subject to negative, abusive language — sworn and shouted at on a fairly consistent basis. That said, verbal abuse can be more subtle than overtly aggressive insults and reprimands. You may find that you're being joked around with in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, and that too can be a kind of verbal bullying.

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6. You often feel ganged up on.

Oftentimes, when you make a comment, suggestion or disagree with a point of view, you’re responded to with a pile of responses by others. It doesn’t matter whether you’re right or not — the gang mentality is determined to prove you wrong.

7. Your health is deteriorating.

Mentally, you’re drained and your energy is zapped. You’re sleeping more and find it hard to get out of bed. Bullying can lead to depression, anxiety, panic attacks and mood swings. There are also physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, sleeping troubles and loss of appetite (or excessive eating). In extreme cases, the effects of bullying can also lead to heart attacks and strokes.

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8. You and your work are publicly diminished.

Your excellent work is not acknowledged by your boss and/or they give the credit to others in a public setting such as a meeting or an off-site.

9. Others consistently criticize your work — unfairly.

It seems that in the eyes of your boss, you can’t do anything right. Feedback is always provided in the form of criticism and delivered in a way to make you feel bad about yourself. There’s no effort to provide guidance, mentoring or encouragement.

10. You're presented unreasonable obstacles at every turn.

Roadblocks are thrown in front of you to throw you off course and prevent you from successful completion of a project or initiative.

What to do about it:

Once you’ve come to the realization that you’re a victim of bullying it’s important to know what kind of recourse you have. Here are three possible actions:

  • Speak to a trusted authority in the organization: A good start may be human resources. They should be able to help you determine if in fact you’re actually being bullied. If it’s determined that a bullying situation exists, they can also provide guidance on how to deal with it. Alternatively, you may feel more comfortable speaking with an ombudsman or Chief Ethic’s Officer (especially if you’re working in an organization that has a strong ethics culture). It’s important to keep in mind that most bullies will deny their behavior when confronted. It’s also very difficult to prove, unless others are being bullied and or your story can be corroborated.
  • Know your rights: If you feel that you’re not being heard within your company, you might seek outside counsel. Familiarize yourself with state and federal laws. Many states are in the process of enacting anti-bullying laws. For example, Vermont, is looking to pass the first comprehensive anti-bullying, Healthy Workplace Bill (Vermont Senate bill S 143) which is an act relating to protecting employees from abuse at work.
  • Find another job: This should be a last resort, but sometimes it’s simply not worth the fight — emotionally and financially. Look for new employment with a company possessing a strong culture of integrity. Such companies often have zero tolerance policies along with multiple ways to report abuse.

In the meantime, be sure to seek outside professional help to deal with the physical and mental fallout from prolonged bullying. Reducing stress and keeping a clear mind will help you think through your options and ultimately make the best possible decision.

Scott W. Ventrella
Scott W. Ventrella

Scott W. Ventrella is a top national speaker, collegiate lecturer, and highly sought after executive coach. He is the former managing director of the Center for Corporate Ethics (CCE), a division of the Institute for Global Ethics. Prior to joining CCE, Scott was the executive vice-president of SAI Global, Professional Services, North America. Ventrella's commitment to professionally empowering others extends from large audiences to his personal consulting work where he worked primarily in the areas of large-scale organizational change, executive coaching, and leadership development and understands the needs and balance of corporate efficiency and effectiveness. He is the author of three best-selling books, and his articles have been featured in magazines and newspapers
such as Elle, Cosmoplitan, Investor's Business Daily, Executive Excellence.