My Life Journey

Making Sense of Workplace Bullying

word clouds describing the effects of workplace bullying

An important part of moving forward from the workplace bullying I experienced was trying to make sense of what had happened. I wasn’t even sure if bullying was the right word, and I had limited familiarity with the range of behaviours that workplace bullying can encompass. I came up with the idea of doing a research project to capture the process of sense-making, and the first step in doing that was to examine what the existing research literature has to say about the phenomenon.

What I found resonated very strongly with me. It helped me understand what I had experienced and why it affected me the way it did. Here are some of the things that were most meaningful for me.


This refers to bullying by a group. In the workplace, this is often with the intent to force someone out of the workplace.

“Being mobbed can result in a profound sense of shame and powerlessness on the part of the victim who may not know the language of mobbing and therefore does not know how to name what has happened.” (Duffy & Sperry, 2007)

“Victims of mobbing are usually individuals who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishment, integrity, innovation, and intelligence and competence.” (Davenport, Schwartz, & Elliott, 1999)

Organizational factors

“Change processes… provided an effective smokescreen for bullying behaviour. One of the most common tactics used by bullies was to threaten targets using the current organizational changes as a ‘reason’ to threaten jobs, careers, and professionalism.” (Hutchinson et al., 2005)

“Sadly, the organization’s response to bullying often serves to exacerbate the target’s experience of being bullied, especially if their reported experiences are minimalized, dismissed, ignored, disbelieved, or allowed to continue without action.” (Vickers, 2006)

“Even although organizations may well have developed high profile policies and procedures to respond to bullying, we suggest that informal organizational alliances and work group norms tolerant of bullying may serve to counteract these policies and ensure reports are minimized, ignored or denied.” (Hutchinson et al., 2010)

Attacks on professional competence and reputation

“Erosion of professional competence and reputation” is a significant type of workplace bullying that includes “damage to professional identity and limiting career opportunities” (Hutchinson et al., 2010) and “may be a strategy to reduce those targeted to a state of powerlessness and worthlessness. (Hutchinson et al., 2008)

“Denigrating another’s competence… without apparent anger or aggression, harms the targeted individual without bringing attention to the intent of the perpetrator… Employing balanced arguments as to the deficiencies of the target, while concealing any hostile intent, rationalization can convince others of the information put forward against the target. By offering convincing arguments to others, further exclusion or hostility towards those targeted can be made to appear justified.” (Hutchinson, 2013)

“One of the things that bullies also do is to encourage others to see the target as a ‘troublemaker’ and a problem.” (Vickers, 2001)

Consequences of bullying

“Mobbing results in the humiliation, devaluation, discrediting, degradation, loss of professional reputation and, usually, the removal of the target from the organization with all the concomitant financial, career, health, and psychosocial implications that one might expect from a protracted traumatizing experience.” (Duffy & Sperry, 2007)

Targets of bullying have reported feeling “‘destroyed’, ‘paranoid’, ‘hopeless’, ‘worthless’, ‘hostile’, ‘ill’, ‘tearful’, ‘bewildered’, ‘isolated’, and ‘alone’” (Burnes & Pope, 2007).

“The bullying reported here resulted in unprovoked, planned, aggression and cruelty, which participants reported ‘killed their spirits’ and ‘shattered their lives’. The unrelenting, calculated and deliberate nature of the bullying resulted in profound psychological harm, physical illness, and professional and financial destruction for many of those interviewed. The patterns of bullying also continued past the point where it was clear the psychological will and physical health of the targets had been broken.” (Hutchinson et al., 2006)

Mikkelsen and Einarsen (2002) found that targets of bullying “perceived the world as less benevolent and other people as less supportive and caring”. The significant stress of bullying “may pose a serious threat to victims’ assumption of a just world where people get what they deserve, and where one may positively influence the outcome of events.”

At least there is some comfort and reassurance in knowing that I’m not alone in my experience.

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46 thoughts on “Making Sense of Workplace Bullying”

  1. So sorry you’ve had to experience this! I know the feeling all too well myself and it’s not okay! Mine had more to do with being held to different standards due to the color of my skin and sucked but I’m glad I stood up against it! Now that I’m leaving , everyone here is sad but I’m excited about going back into healthcare and better off actually. Office drama is not for me, period. Great post!

  2. How do you get bullied at work? In any event you should keep a log of any instance should it be useful in the future.

  3. Ashley, I am so terribly saddened by you having gone through this. I always had pretty good jobs where I was respected. But, I did have two where the “Mobbing” if you will, took place. I never even realized it was a form of bullying until I read what you wrote. However, I felt the humiliation, and anxiety by working for those two places. Thank you, for sharing this. Again, I am so sorry you have had to endure this behavior.

    1. Thank you, and I’m sorry that you’ve had to endure those negative experiences. At the time that it was happening I really didn’t have the language to understand what was going on, so learning more about the topic was definitely helpful.

      1. Hmm…I can relate with feelings n the descriptive….but I can’t justify how I feel bullied…or just don’t exist as a human being. Will discuss with my therapist. Thank you for making me think! Hugs

  4. I know a number of people who have experienced similar in their workplace, I can only imagine the stress of having to work in this situation and how destroying it can be to confidence etc.
    There is no sense to bullying, its just the bully’s way of exerting control and trying to cover up their own failings.

  5. Thank you so much for these quotes you found!! I wish I’d had access to this info years ago. Peace and blessings that we can both find happiness after having experienced these scum-of-the-earth bullies.

  6. Great post and really good to create more awareness of this. A bully is the lowlife of society. It’s not tackled firmly enough in schools for starters which certainly would help. I think there will always be those who need to treat others badly in order to boost themselves. Sad buggers. My ex husband was one of them and still is. Great post and I’m really sorry you had to go through it. One day they’ll die, reincarnate as a slug and you can stamp on them. 🤭🤭

  7. I am currently going through something very similar currently waiting for my HR department to sort it out, it has been the most the most demoralising awful situations I have been in since I was a kid but I finally stood up for myself and won’t let the person get away with it anymore❤️ great post and I am sorry you have gone through that x

  8. This is so important topic! Thank you for this post it helped me a lot! Bullying is so disgusting and just horrible… I’m so sorry you had to experience this in the workplace. Take care!!

      1. You are absolutely right. Many times someone who is bullied (I was that person) thinks that this is his/her fault and keeps silent about this. Thank you for addressing this subject!

  9. Honestly, this sounds like what my workplace has devolved into over the past six months. I’ve had so much other crap going on that I hadn’t really thought until this post that maybe it isn’t *just* one type of Hell contributing to my deteriorating mental health and the fun depression and anxiety that like to joyride with PTSD and ADHD being back with a vengeance…

  10. Workplace bullying is the absolute worst!! I’m sorry that was your experience. I think it’s happened in almost every workplace I’ve been in–not directly to me, but I’ve seen it happen. I’ve only experienced it once and it was short-term, but awful. When it leaches outside of the workplace that’s even more damaging and completely unfair. Training doesn’t even seem to phase some people and I suppose it would help if some members of upper management didn’t view their employees as rungs on a ladder.
    Honestly, I think government is the worst for it, because it’s so hard to get rid of problem employees. We had an employee who ended up with one week leave without pay but still kept their job (it was bullying and sexual harassment). The person who reported it wasn’t full-time and ended up leaving the workplace because of it. Utterly disgusting!!

  11. I remember you sharing your experience of workplace bullying with me on a previous post I shared and it really stuck with me. As a manager I share these stories with my colleagues so they can hear the reality of the effect bullying has on others (even as an adult) It is not a nice environment to be in and I am determined that my work will be a positive and safe place to be.

  12. This should be a published post, like in a magazine. Informative and personal. Thanks for sharing this with us. PS I wish I had been there…I wouldn’t have let them bully you.! (I am protective)

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