There is No Excuse for Bullies at Work (or Anywhere Else)

Times are hard, we are all stressed out, the last thing we need to do is take it out on each other. Don’t worry I am not going to ask you to hold hands and sing kumbaya. I just want you to take a couple of minutes and think about how you treat others, and how others treat you.  Take some time to read this great Code of Conduct for Staff & Supervisors, every library should have one.

If you are a manager it is your responsibility to prevent workplace bullying. If you are a recipient of bullying, you are not alone, take action.  If you are a witness to workplace bullying, you can do something about it. I know many people would say right now you should just be happy if you have a job.  But bullying is never ok.  Unfortunately bullies often get away with their behavior because it doesn’t qualify as a hostile work environment. According to Create a Bully-Free Workplace from on Harvard Business Review:

A startling 37% of American workers — roughly 54 million people — have been bullied at work according to a 2007 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute. The consequences of such bullying spreading to the targets’ families, coworkers, and organizations. Costs include reduced creativity, low morale, and increased turnover — all factors that weigh heavily on the bottom line. Among targets of bullying, 40% never told their employers and, of those who did, 62% reported that they were ignored.

Managers take note a bully free work environment affects more than the mood in the office

Workplace bullying directly impacts the bottom line by affecting productivity, wellness (with subsequent rise in employer benefit costs), attrition, attraction and retention. – HBR

The article focuses on bosses that bully and offers some suggestions for managers to help prevent hiring bosses that will be bullies.

  • When hiring managers, set the bar high with regard to interpersonal skills and leadership experience.
  • Help new managers feel comfortable in their high-power roles.
  • Remind managers to focus on core values.
  • Design jobs in such a way as to avoid heaping unrealistic expectations onto individual leaders.
  • Educate yourself and your managers about the psychological consequences of power.

Unfortunately bosses are not the only bullies in the work place. This post, Bullies At Work, offers some suggestions for recipients of workplace bullies

  1. Don’t take it personally.
  2. Get help. Talk to someone about the bullying, even if it’s a friend, family member or co-worker.
  3. Find out your organization’s policy about bullying.
  4. Remember you have choices.

The New York Times offers a quiz to determine if you’ve been bullied at work.

Even if there is no bullying in your workplace take a couple of minutes to think of little things you could do to lessen stress.

More reading and resources

Creative Commons licensed image used courtesy of HeyThereSpaceman

23 thoughts on “There is No Excuse for Bullies at Work (or Anywhere Else)

  1. Thank you for writing this article, as all too often managers tend to go into bully mode, especially when they are promoted and find themselves in charge of the very people they once worked shoulder-to-shoulder with.

    I do have to take issue with one bit of advice, however, and that’s only because I always take issue with this bit of advice when it is offered: don’t take it personally. When a remark or an action is directed at you, said to you, meant to influence you or insult you, how else is one to take it but personally? I understand the sentiment; the person is acting out some inward aggression and would have done so against anybody–they didn’t go out looking for you in particular. The only problem with this sentiment is that sometimes, it’s not true.

    I would also like to add that if your employer offers an employee assistance program–if they can help you find free or reduced-cost counseling–do please take advantage of it. Even if you aren’t under heavy stress, just talking to an objective third party is a great way to cleanse out the psyche.


    1. Brandon I think often people are promoted to manager because they are good at their “jobs” but if your job isn’t managing why would someone expect you to be good at it?

      I agree with your objection to don’t take it personally. uh its happening to me, how else should I take it?

      Great advice on the counseling!


  2. Wonderful post and collection of links. It’s fascinating to see what power or the perception of power does to some. Scariest of all is the bully library director – can poison the entire institution.


      1. @librarianbyday I already forwarded it to a colleague- it’s one of those topics that are difficult to discuss publicly- thank you!


  3. “Workplace violence is any act against an employee that creates a hostile work environment and negatively affects the employee either physically or psychologically. Bullying is a non-homicidal form of violence and a systematic campaign that jeopardizes your health, your career, your family and the job you once loved. And because it is violent , emotional and physical harm results. Bullies are not psychopaths. They are normal people who get very aggressive at work. And it is not about you”.(
    To date there are ten employees including myself who have been subjected to various forms of repeated harassing, malicious, cruel and humiliating attempts to undermine us by the same manager, in the same department, in the same facility in southern New Hampshire. Four employees have been terminated while the others have left because of the emotional toll it was taking on their health. Having worked with eight of these wonderful people I can attest to their character, professionalism, skill, loyalty and genuine care for the people in the community. One employee was tormented and terminated after 38 years of service excellence. She was constantly ordered into meetings without any warning or support and subjected to being yell at, intimidated, belittled and routinely threatened with termination. She was humiliated and tormented by words, intonations and attacks on her character even though her work performance and yearly reviews were very good. Another employee from the same department was terminated last week. I was terminated from this department after 28 years of continuous, loyal service to this facility. Like the other employees my evaluations were great, coworkers enjoyed working with me and my patients appreciated all that I did for them. I had received a substantial pay raise 5 months before the torment and bullying began because the management said they ” appreciated the years of dedication, professionalism and ability to be a team player.
    What we all have in common is the fact we were subjected to emotional distress and psychological harassment over a period of time resulting in mental and physical distress. By this managers words, intonations and actions he created an environment that was hostile and offensive. And the documentation about each encounter we had with this bully was twisted, inaccurate and crafted to be so hurtful we were doubting our sanity. .
    Sadly the administration including Human Resources were aware of the hostile work environment within this department and did nothing to prevent or abate the problem. We begged them for help but were just sent back to the bully for ‘conflict resolution” . Stopping workplace violence requires more than mere “conflict resolution”. We were offered counseling but only at the hands of this abuser.
    Workplace violence is an occupational and safety health hazard and addressed by OSHA in their guidelines for preventing workplace violence for healthcare and social service workers. (OSHA 3148-01R2004). I would be interested in knowing the cost of mental and physical ill health that this stress has caused on not only the abused employee but to all the others that witnessed the abuse and were too afraid for their jobs to say anything. I know I ended up in the emergency room with chest pains after a particularly cruel meeting, sought out psychological counseling and took two weeks of short term disability to try and process what was happening to me.
    On January 7, 2010 a legislature from Hinsdale, New Hampshire proposed legislation (House Bill 1403) designed to provide legal protection for workers subjected to an abusive and hostile work environment. Several of us who were negatively impacted by this cruel and evil manager shared our experiences before the House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee in Concord, NH. Sadly the proposed bill went no farther. Hopefully with public awareness, a new administration and claims of abuse causing medical malpractice to soar due to bullying employees and patient injury we can say that bullying in the workplace is wrong financially and morally. It shouldn’t hurt to go to work.
    I found a wonderful website that is designed for employees that have been bullied. This site is designed for bullied individuals to help educate in hopes of making a difference in your health ,and, in return, your life.
    Thank you for listening.


  4. Right on! I’ve watched my field for the past 13 years too often allow bullies to gain & retain positions of power. I think it’s because we librarians tend to have such a culture of niceness that no one wants to point the truth out. It seems inconceivable to those of us with a conscience that someone would be deliberately targeting a coworker. (But read: The Sociopath Next Door – it’s an eye-opener!) Unfortunately, such people do exist. When the victim decides to no longer be a victim and points out what’s really going on, they often suffer terrible consequences. But people who behave as bullies are toxic to society, our organizations, and the library field in general. We have to put on whatever armor is necessary and call bad behavior what it is. Our willingness to call it out will embolden and empower our colleagues and together we can rid ourselves of these negative influences.


  5. I’m always uncomfortable with the discourse on bullying. Not because bullying does not exist, or that bullying is not wrong, but because the discourse we have about bullies can and often does result in a pile-on against so-called bullies which is a kind of bullying in and of itself.

    Because we feel so violated by “The Bully” (who is often an amalgam of a whole bunch of jerks and assholes we’ve collectively met, and likely, even justifiably have not bothered to get to know), we get to relate him/her to the most vile possible concept in our minds. We get to de-humanize these individuals as bullies and forget to think of them as human beings. This does not justify their behavior, but it also does not push the discourse forward to resolve it.

    The consequences of being a bully are not good. Being a bully is not a positive thing, and is not something that really anyone wants to think themselves to be. Who would want to be fired because they could not control their anger, or failed to appreciate the strengths of their co-workers? Also, many bullies feel themselves to be bullied. Others have learning disabilities that make it difficult for them to understand social cues and behaviors.

    I advocate for restorative processes for bullying. These involve insisting that the bully be accountable to understand what they did, what they were thinking of when it happened, what they have thought about since, who was effected by their behavior and how [it’s usually more than just the victim], and what needs to happen to repair the harm cause by their behavior. In an ideal world, the person most effected by the bully’s behavior gets to be involved in this process and can offer suggestions about what needs to happen to repair the harm as well. People from community both as ‘supporters’ of the bully and the person effected by the bully are needed as well.

    Merely labelling certain people bullies is really its own violence. We do not like to remember that bullies have families that love them and rely on them. People need to be treated like human beings, no matter what their behavior.


    1. Ryan I agree with you (for the most part), which is why I wrote the post and offered suggestions, links and tips. One of the biggest issues with workplace bullies in that management is disinclined to take action, any action. We too often elevate employees who are great reference librarians to the position of manager based on how well they do at being a reference librarian which actually does very little to prepare one for managing people and dealing with interpersonal issues that may arise. This is a large problem and one that a single blog post can tackle. Unfortunately workplace bullies are just as real as school yard bullies and the damage they do is equally as real. For some reason American society accepts adult bullies far more easily and willingly than we do child bullies.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s