Workplace bullying; What are the current issues & implications? By: Canadian_SW

Recently in the media there has been a lot of talk surrounding the issue of bullying. When we think of bullying we may think of school yard antics,or cafeteria trays going flying during lunch period. We may view bullying from our youth as a sort of rite of passage.That it was merely a way of learning to navigate and acquire social skills, leadership and boundaries among those that tried to attain all they could from life by merely demanding it. Many of us were taught it was normal, and a way for us to “toughen” up. However, it is a lot more serious than that. Both for youths and adults, bullying appears to have reached a whole new level of intimidation. Transcending all levels of society and acquiring new ways of inflicting coercion and fear. Particularly in the workplace.

Many argue that this is due to globalization, social media as well as our current political and economical climate. Regardless of the root causes, it’s on the rise and is a source of continuous discussion. Whether it manifest itself as a anti-bullying day at your child’s school, or an official memorandum being handed out by human resources, bullying is on the agenda and it’s creating a lot of dialogue.

Recently bullying in the workforce has become a hot topic. More than a dozen states, including New York and Massachusetts, have considered anti-bullying laws in the past year. A recent survey found that 56% of companies have some form of anti-bullying policy. In a 2011 survey, 40% of Canadians have encountered bullying in the workplace.  Janice Bernard of the Nova Scotia Association of Health Organizations explains why workplace bullying is on the rise; “We’ve been talking about it for years, but not calling it what it is: bullying—corporate bullying, institutional bullying, serial bullying and residual bullying” (the toxic environment which may remain after a bully has left the workplace). Bernard also points out that bullying seems to be a lot more pervasive in the healthcare industry. It is argued this could be due to the high female and ethnic diversity found in the healthcare field, notably caregivers, companions, nurses and support workers. Sexism and racism are sadly still on the rise in many workplaces. But of course it can be found in any industry and many people aren’t even unaware of it.

When we discuss bullying it is important to distinguish between normal worker conflict and workplace bullying. Bullying is defined as repeated, persistent, continuous behaviour as opposed to a single negative act and is generally associated with a power imbalance between the victim and perpetrator, where the victim feels inferior (Salin, 2003). Bullying should not be confused with tough management styles. It is negative and persistent abuse.The following are examples of workplace bullying behaviours:

  • Social isolation (silent treatment)
  • Rumours
  • Personal attack of a person’s private
  • Excessive or unjustified criticism
  • Over-monitoring of work
  • Verbal aggression
  • Withholding information
  • life and/or personal attributes

(Salin 2003; Rowell 2005)

The effects of bullying in the workplace have been well documented over the last decade. In 2003, a study focused on bullying in the workplace and its correlation with cardiovascular disease and depression (Kivimaki ,M. et al; 2002). Another recent study highlights ageism in the workplace. How men and women above the age of 50 are seen as a corporate liability in the age of technology and youth. Even if they are willing to learn, many individuals above the age of 50 are encouraged to leave their job and are portrayed as slowing their profession down (Brownell &Powell, 2013).

Bullying in the workplace transcends all industries and professions. It can effect our mental health as well as physical health ( Rex-Lear, M. Et al., 2013). It can have economical and professional implications as well. What I personally find the most challenging, is the stigma attached to workplace bullying. If you’re an adult, than you can toughen up and deal with it. This view is shared by many. The prevailing societal perception of bullying is that it should have ended in the school yard. A rather romantic view of the acute challenges and mental anguish many have to endure at the hands of their colleagues or superiors.

During our debate this Wednesday we will explore some of these issues.

  1. What is workplace bullying and what are some of its characteristics?
  2. Do you feel bullying in the workplace is a new phenomenon or an age old issue?
  3. Have you ever witnessed or experienced bullying in the workplace?
  4. What are some of the challenges & implications in addressing bullying in the workplace?
  5. What is the best approach when dealing with bullying in the workplace?
  6. As social work or mental health professionals do you feel you have an ethical obligation to address bullying in the workplace?

Join us @SWSCmedia this Wednesday ( 6th March ) 8:00 PM EST / 5:00 PM PST to discuss “Workplace bullying; What are the current issues & implications?”


CBC- (2011, Dec 6th) 40% of Canadians bullied at work, expert says. Retrieved March 4th, 2013 from

Salin, D (2003) ‘Ways of explaining workplace bullying: A review of enabling, motivating and precipitating structures and processes in the work environment’, Human Relations,vol. 56, no. 10, pp.1213-1232

Kivimaki, M., Virtanen, M., Vartia, M., Elovainio, M., Vahtera,J., Keltikangas-Ja¨rvinen, L. (2003) Workplace bullying and the risk of cardiovascular disease and depression.

Brownell, P. & Powell, M., (2013) Definitions and Theoretical Models for Understanding Ageism and Abuse in the Workplace. Retrieved March 5th, 2013 from       

Rex-Lear,M.,Knack,J.,Jensen-Campbell,L. (2012)  Beyond the Playground: Bullying in the Workplace and Its Relation to Mental and Physical Health Outcomes. Handbooks in Health, Work, and Disability 2012, pp 219-240.

 Public & Governmental Anti-Bullying resources

Healthy work place Bill.- US

Workplace Bullying Institute

Psychological Harassment Information Association

Public Health Agency of Canada:

UK National Workplace Bullying Advice

The Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute
















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