Workplace Bullying Can Be Subtle

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We often talk about school bullying and workplace harassment. Rarely do we consider workplace bullying. Indeed, there is a distinct difference between the two.

Harassment is usually linked to protective classes like race, religion, gender, age and so on. It is generally much easier to pin-point when an employee is being harassed. Victims of harassment may have state agencies to turn to for help.

Bullying is much more subtle and is define as any form of workplace intimidation in the form of aggressive behaviors that causes psychological harm and damage. Bullying may not be linked to a protective class. The person and the circumstance may be completely random but most often is repetitive. Bullying is not a person having a bad day or two employees having a disagreement or not getting along. Bullying is recurring aggressive intimidation toward another employee that causes psychological harm that may have physical effects like stress, depression and even suicide.

A few characteristics of workplace bullying are:

  • Usually occurs over long periods of time, like months and years.
  • Bullying is all about power and typically does not stop until the bully has achieve power over their victim.
  • Victims can be anybody, anywhere and most often are not associate with a protective class.
  • Bullies escalate aggressively until they overcome their victims.
  • Bullying can occur in the form of speech like, emotional outbursts, yelling, insults, intimidating emails or other correspondence (e.g., social media), facial expressions, hand gestures and so on.
  • Bullying can occur in the form of exclusion, inclusion, or punishing behaviors like unreasonable workloads or impossible deadlines.
  • Types of humiliation, mocking, taunting, teasing, gossiping and so on are forms of bullying.

Training and educating your employees about workplace bullying is the best prevention. Of course, having language in your handbook and policies and procedures to cope with bullying helps protect victims. Victims and potential recipients of bullying need to know that contact with a supervisor or an HR representative is their best source for help and relief. Likewise supervisors, managers and other leadership need formal training in recognizing and dealing with bullying.

Transportation leadership should take all reports of workplace bullying seriously and act decisively.


Robert LeachRobert Leach is a Transportation Supervisor at Academy District 20 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He is responsible for recruiting, training and relief/substitute drivers. In 2017, he was named “Colorado’s Best Trainer” by the Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association. Robert writes and teaches frequently on organization development, strategic planning and business ethics. He can be reached at robert.leach@asd20.org.