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Self-Protection in a Bully-Prone Workplace

Self-Protection in a Bully-Prone WorkplaceIf you are looking for a new job, or have just started one, it pays to read the signs of a bully-prone workplace early so that you can take adequate steps to protect yourself against bullying before it happens.

Conservatively, one in three workers have experienced bullying and one in two have witnessed it. You are likely either to be on the receiving end of bullying, or watch a colleague being bullied at some point.

So what are some of the common signs of a bully-prone workplace?

Here are five of the signs that your workplace may tolerate bullying:

  1. Values statement.

    If the official vision, mission and values statement of the organization declares accountability only to directors and shareholders and not to employees, customers and the community, then it is a competitive workplace focused only on the bottom line. Politics are rife and bullying is bound to occur.

  2. Personality conflict.

    This euphemism describes what happens between a bully and the target when a workplace is in denial about bullying and doesn’t want to address the issue effectively. Mediation is a common solution to this problem. The worker is made to encounter the bully in a meeting and accept half the responsibility for being bullied.

  3. Zero tolerance.

    This is the image-enhancement term used by workplaces where bullying is rife. They have investigation procedures that favor the management agenda and penalize the target.

  4. Bureaucratization.

    This describes an organization which is neither truly empathic nor responsive. These are the most toxic workplaces because they give an illusion of safety that actually proves to be ephemeral.

  5. High turnover, absenteeism and low staff morale.

    Is that why it was so easy for you to get the job? Making discreet inquiries about workplace history and being prepared to start looking for another job fairly soon are useful precautionary measures to take.

If you have assessed your workplace as having three or more of these signs, you must take immediate action to prepare yourself to act in the earliest stages of bullying. There are five things you must do at the outset of employment:

  1. Know your rights and familiarize yourself with HR, policies and procedures and legislation that protects worker safety. Keep forms and websites handy just in case.
  2. Keep a journal for the specific purpose of recording every instance of disrespectful communication directed either at yourself or a colleague.
  3. Enlist the support of a good psychologist as confidence-coach and advocate who is prepared to speak on your behalf if you have to attend a meeting where a bullying management team will gang up on you.
  4. Make anti-bullying boundaries clear from the outset by not disclosing personal information, focusing on work and not participating in office gossip or politics and projecting a confident, assertive, “don’t-mess-with-me” attitude. Bullies tend to pick on easy, not tough, targets.
  5. Lawyer up. Find a good lawyer and put him or her on standby. Sometimes a well-placed, intimidating letter is all that’s necessary to goad a perpetrating workplace into corrective action.
Self-Protection in a Bully-Prone Workplace

Sophie Henshaw, DPsych

Dr. Sophie Henshaw is a clinical psychologist in private practice with over 20 years' experience. She loves helping mid-career women who long to get away from hostile workplaces and bad bosses. She believes with a little imagination, escape into a free-spirited life is possible. Dr. Sophie is the author of two books: "Stressed, Depressed And Dreading Mondays" and "What Every Target Of Workplace Bullying Needs To Know." She's appeared on Channel 10, 6PR, HuffPost Live, PsychCentral, Women's Agenda, NineMSN Health, Rebelle Society and Witch. She's a regular Huffington Post contributor (under her pen name). For more, visit:

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APA Reference
Henshaw, S. (2018). Self-Protection in a Bully-Prone Workplace. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Feb 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.