Alicia Karwat Alicia has over 15 years of corporate experience and has been helping professionals, managers and executives identify and develop extraordinary powers they didn’t even know they had, for over 5 years. To find out more view Alicia's full bio or visit Alicia's website

Being Bullied At Work?

By Dr Alicia Karwat, KeySteps Pty. Ltd., January 2010

Since my first posting on workplace psychopaths, “Workplace psychopaths – how to deal with them” in April 2008, comments continue coming in to our blog. The stories unfold as more people want to share their experiences about being bullied by a workplace psychopath. Although not every bully is a workplace psychopath, nonetheless being a target of a workplace psychopath’s attention inevitably means that you are being bullied.  Thus I thought you might be interested to learn more facts about the phenomenon. The Workplace Bullying Institute conducted a large workplace bullying survey and concluded that 37% of American workers have been bullied at work.

Being bullied at work? Perhaps you can take some solace in the fact that you are not alone. In fact, you have become a victim of a wide spread phenomenon and the findings of the US survey might interest you. They can aid your informed decision making how to react and what to do when you are a target of bullying.

I am not aware of any such comprehensive research done in Australia, however from the vast number of articles published in Australia on workplace bullying, through research, media and internet, we can see that the problem is similar and widely spread here too. For example, ABC News recently reported that a survey of Northern Territory public servants revealed that 46% of those surveyed said that bullying and harassment was the problem in their office,

Let’s focus on some facts that the US survey uncovered. The full report is available on the Workplace Bullying Institute website

1. Workplace bullying is an epidemic
37% of American workers have been bullied at work, and nearly half (49%) had either direct experience or witnessed it.

2. Gender and bullying
Men are more likely than women to be bullies (60% vs. 40%), however when a bully is a women she targets mostly women (71%). Men bullies more than women bullies prefer public bullying (57% vs. 48%), and women bullies prefer to bully behind closed doors (47% vs. 38%). Women bullies are slightly more likely than men bullies to enlist the help of others to “gang up” on their targets.

3. Bullying is mostly Top-Down
Not all bosses are bullies but most bullies are bosses. The survey found that 72% of bullies were bosses, 18% of the cases were peer bullying, and in 9% of the cases the bully was a subordinate. The latter low number probably explains why we have not yet received any comment to my second posting on bullying “Workplace Psychopaths revisited: who is bullying whom” November 2008. In that posting I discussed a situation where managers were accused of being a bully when in fact the harasser was the one who played the victim. The research of this phenomenon is underway, see the posting, but to the best of my knowledge the results have not been published yet. I had actually talked to a person who admitted bullying his boss, but he did not want to share his experience on our blog.

4. Target’s reaction
40% of bullied individuals took neither formal nor informal action. 38% of targets complained informally to employer.

5. American Employers Can and Do Ignore Bullying
In 62% of the cases, when made aware of bullying, employers escalate the problem for the target or simply do nothing.

6. Consequences
Targets lost their jobs to make the bullying stop in 77% of the cases. Those were made up by: Target was terminated – 24%, Target voluntary left the organisation – 40%, Target transferred and stayed with the same employer – 13%. Negative consequences for the bully were reported in only 23% of the cases.

These findings confirm the strong sentiment expressed in the comments on our blog.
The most likely outcome is the targets leaving their jobs. Therefore, the best advice is to get out of the bullying situation as quickly as you can before it gets out of control. The more that 45% of bullied targets reported that stress affected their health. Apply for another job either within the organisation or outside.

Please let us know if you know about any comprehensive workplace bullying survey conducted in Australia.

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  1. Dear Alicia,
    You’re quite right that the research on incidence of workplace bullying is lean. If we rely on harassment research, however, then your assumptions make sense-same scenarios, same perpetrators, same consequences. What the harassment research shows that we’re looking for now is the POWER motivation-obtaining jobs, territory, contacts, opportunities, advancements-those kinds of things. This perspective takes us out of the ‘psychopath’ model and into more ‘motivation’ and what I call ‘management by bullying’. I am speaking about this issue based on my heuristic research at the upcoming ‘7th Annual International Conference on Workplace Bullying in Wales this June (2010). My blog addresses these issues nearly weekly and I’m developing a blog-talk show on EI, Bullying, and related issues. Would you like to be among my first guests? If so contact me directly. Kathleen

  2. Dear Alicia,
    I am currently in the situation of being the line manager of a workplace psychopath and being bullied. This has been going on since I first arrived at the school last August.
    She has admitted to me several times always behind closed doors, the things she has done to prevent me from doing my job (blocking my access to IT for the first two months was one strategy).
    Our initial interactions were her attempt to coerce me into bullying the staff in the way they had been the year before, but I cut her short and would not be a part of her ‘evaluations’ of teachers. This really caused a wave of attacks.
    Another thing she did as soon as I arrived was emphasize the power of the union, how easy it was to be sued, how she had plenty of evidence to sue people in the school, etc - all thinly veiled threats which I didn’t recognize at the time.
    She has preyed upon my obligation as her line manager to respect her confidentiality, knowing this makes me more isolated, all the while attacking me and any work I do through colleagues and parents. I have been called into countless meetings with union officials because she claims she doesn’t feel safe to speak with me alone (of course it is now actually the reverse). Her position has enabled her to block or delay all initiatives, as if I try to maneuver around her I am again facing meetings to explain why I am taking over her job and undermining her to staff. In the meantime she is critical that nothing has been achieved under my leadership.
    The education field is a perfect arena for such a person as you have a collection of kind caring souls inclined to put the children before themselves, so she can easily attack them on those grounds. I have successfully blocked her in many instances from attacking staff, but at huge emotional cost to me as the consequences are always stressful. Just recently I sat through a 2 hour meeting with her, the director (who fortunately is supportive, but who has also been bullied by this woman), and the union rep over my use of language in an email. The point that she had attempted to bully and intimidate the entire staff was lost in circular arguments about the semantics of the expressions I had used. She took the opportunity to verbally abuse me, make all sorts of wild allegations, and I finally had to leave upset and unable to function effectively for the remainder of the day.
    So, yes, I know what its like to be bullied by a someone I am supposed to be managing! I am truly lucky in that there are others there who understand the difficulties and are supportive.

  3. I think we all will get help soon, as the first step is to talk about it. The next step is to educate ourselves, show the stats and push for laws to protect employees in this area.

  4. Hi ,

    I felt the need to add to the commentary of bullying behaviour regarding psychopaths in the workplace.

    The decision processes made by these people is bizarre and needs to be shared.

    In the past I had co-worker who was the most timid, softly spoken person (could barely hear him speak sitting next to him in a quiet room) I have ever come across. This person had obvious issues with the ability of expression on many levels. Our team of empathetic adults waded through the difficulties working with this person and provided, as best as we could, a judgement free forum at any opportunity.

    While driving during the course of a working day he made an error of judgement resulting in a significant motor vehicle accident, not involving any other vehicles and where no-one was seriously hurt. Being the driver greatly affected his self-esteem at the time.

    On his leaving day a card was created, typically with photographs of some endearing exploits at work. Of the large photo’s on the front of the card was a photo of the car accident.

    Some staff members decided that the fragile soul was not deserving of such a send-off and the card was permanently enhanced with something a little more lighthearted.

    Although this change was made with no possibility for detection, some management staff commented upon seeing the card that they were expecting to see a crashed car!!

    This was obviously followed by some very awkward silence, and for what?

    Why people see this as appropriate I will never know, but I feel that I have witnessed a psychopath in action.


  5. 29.) I discovered your blog site on google and check a few of your early posts. Continue to keep up the very good operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading more from you later on!…

  6. We had several bullies at our workplace over the past few years. What astounded me was the reluctance of top management to address the issues.

    These guys would feed off of each other and at one point there were 3 of them which when together, would best be described as “mobbing.” The ringleader of the group, hid under a “cloak” of Christianity, which I have recently read is not all that unusual.

    One incident occured as a result of this individual who was quite explosive, slinging a bunch of loud curse words, dropping the “F” bomb several times at another individual. When a 3rd party observed his loud and profane behavior, he made a comment to the effect of he didn’t think Christians used that type of language. The bully watched and waited. When the guy who had made that statement went to the restroom, the bully followed him in and stood beside him at the urinal. He apologized for his outburst, but when on to quietly tell him that if he EVER questioned his Christianity again - he would take him out back and beat the shit out of him!

    This same individual had gun ammunition delivered to work; left his loaded 9mm gun in plain view on the seat of his car in the parking lot; threw a wrench at one of the minority machine operators; locked a female employee out in the lobby with no way to get back into the office, and flashed a switchblade at me in my office while waiting for me to approve one of his purchase orders! He played “Jekkyl and Hyde” on a daily basis. Scary…real scary. The company DID NOTHING to protect the rest of the employees from him. I believe that they were scared. BTW - this is no small company I am talking about. The company is the second largest global corporation . . .by the grace of God, his buddy left, and finally enough of the other folks started ostracizing him enough that he got the hint and left. He now does his bullying elsewhere - but rest assured, he’s still doing it!


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