Bullying in the Workplace and Effective Mentoring

A percentage of my time is spent addressing various behaviours as we go on our mentoring journey. At times I have to ask myself what era are we living in as the behaviours are antiquated and inappropriate for today’s business climate and for world as a whole. One of the behaviours that I see and have commented on before is bullying. I have heard of some tragic outcomes that have come from people being subjected to bullying both in and out of the workplace.

As leaders of organizations we cannot allow behaviours such as that to exist in our workplace and for that matter in the communities that we live in.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes harm. It can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of workplace aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical school bully, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. In the majority of cases, bullying in the workplace is reported as having been by someone in authority over the target. However, bullies can also be peers, and occasionally subordinates.

Research has also investigated the impact of the larger organizational context on bullying as well as the group-level processes that impact on the incidence and maintenance of bullying behaviour. Bullying can be covert or overt. It may be missed by superiors; it may be known by many throughout the organization. Negative effects are not limited to the targeted individuals, and may lead to a decline in employee morale and a change in organizational culture.

Psychosocial factors such as bullying are now being generally acknowledged as global issues, affecting all countries, professions, and workers. A Monster Global Poll bears this out. The poll, run from May 1-14, 2011, surveyed workers worldwide, and posed the question, “Have you ever been bullied at work?” The 16, 517 responses received indicated the following: 64% answered that they had been bullied, either physically hurt, driven to tears, or had their work performance affected; 36% replied that this had never happened to them; and 16% answered that they had seen it happen to others. An astounding 83% of European respondents reported that they had been physically or emotionally bullied, while the percentages were 65% in the Americas, and 55% in Asia.

With some of the work that I do in organizations I do see a “culture of fear” or managing by fear and intimidation as the foundation for an organization’s culture. Cultures such as this do start at the top and filter down through the organization.

The impacts on the people and the organization are severe if not addressed. Sadly, they are typically not addressed. The bullying persists and the impact on the people increases and can eventually result in depression and potential a tragic ending.

In a study of public-sector union members, approximately one in five workers reported having considered leaving the workplace as a result of witnessing bullying taking place.

The author explained these figures by pointing to the presence of a climate of fear in which employees considered reporting to be unsafe, where bullies had “got away with it” previously despite management knowing of the presence of bullying.


When it is not addressed, the organization can see a drop in productivity, increase in sick time, negativity in the workplace, a toxic culture, high turnover rates and dissatisfied customers, to name but a few.

Employees will see an increase in stress especially if they do not know how to manage stress, disengagement, complacency, more frequent and longer periods of illness, and the potential to move to depression which has severe outcomes if not diagnosed and treated.

How can mentoring help?

Effective mentoring, when done properly, can assist in minimizing the impact that workplace bullying has on the organization and the people. In most situations there is little attention spent on addressing the behaviours of the bully.

Through the mentoring process we can guide the bully to the root cause which is seldom addressed. In all the research that I have done on this topic the majority indicate that we do not invest any time in the person inflicting the pain.

Sometimes all we need is an ear to listen – nothing more, nothing less. An effective mentor can do just that and know when it is appropriate to ask a question to continue the dialogue. Does your organization make use of mentors? “Can you afford not to?”

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