Can Adults Be Bullies, Too?

by Mary Kay Turner

In March we wrote an article about children bullying other children, especially in school, Do people bully people in other situations? Does it happen where you work? This definition of workplace bullying:

Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming, mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
  • Work interference “sabotage which prevents work from getting done

(From Workplace Bullying Institute [WBI]

Unfortunately it happens in many workplaces, with up to 50% of people reporting they have heard one coworker screaming at another at work. What does workplace bullying look like? At work you may have a coworker often putting you down, keeping critical communication from you, and interrupting you, or it may be as subtle as rolling eyes and glaring. You may be given new tasks without the training required to complete them. It is even possible you could be accused of incompetence at your job, despite a history of excellent job performance. Away from work, frustration with your job may be taking more of your time and energy, you may find less enjoyment in things you always enjoyed, and you may dread going to back to work after time off, even to the point of feeling ill.

Who is likely to be a target of bullying in the workplace? The likely target of such bullying is often the most skilled person within a workgroup. It can be a person who works independently, is well, liked and displays good social skills, who is ethical and honest, who tries to teach help other workers. Bullies usually target people they perceive, correctly or not, to be a threat. Women are targets in 80% of bully incidents. Being bullied at work closely resembles being a battered spouse. The abuser inflicts pain at chosen times and places in certain ways, thus keeping the victim off balance, not knowing when the violence might occur again. Interestingly, the perpetrator in 60% of incidents is a woman.

A person who is bullied at work has limited options, as the bully may be a supervisor. Sometimes a complaint can be made through the Human Resources Department or an employee assistance program. Because the employer creates the work environment, the employer needs to be sure that people who bully other employees face negative consequences for this behavior rather than being accepted or even promoted. They can change the work climate by providing training for supervisors and monitoring complaints.

In the United States bullying at work is usually legal. However, that is changing as people become more aware of the problem and the costs of bullying in loss of productivity and loss of good employees. Healthy workplace legislation is being introduced in many states. You can learn more about options in “The Bully at Work” by Gary and Ruth Namie.

For more information about Mediation Service of Adams County, please contact Mediation Services of Adams County at 717-334-7312, or check out our website:

Mary Kay Turner is a teacher who is also a board member, volunteer mediator and trainer for Mediation Services of Adams County (MSAC).