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Workplace Bullying: The Importance of Catching It Early

Workplace Bullying: Catch it EarlyWorkplace bullying is probably one of the most expensive experiences you will endure. It can cost you your job, mental, physical and financial health, and in worse cases lead to suicide.

The good news is that workplace bullying has a timeline. If you intervene early enough, you can plan for the worst and be one step ahead in creating the best possible outcome.

Yes, you have to brace yourself because it will be a rough ride. You will be terrified at times and the journey ahead requires enormous courage on your part. The challenge is to face reality head-on and deal with it effectively, rather than pretend it’s not happening and wishing it would all go away.

The first experience you will encounter is the “triggering event.” This is the first time the bully does something to target you. The event itself seems quite ordinary and often isn’t an obvious catalyst for the escalation that follows.

The tendency is to brush it off as “he’s just having a bad day.” Everyone has bad days from time to time, where they become stressed and snappy.

However, this behavior repeats. You get reprimanded and insulted, you’re given an unreasonable workload, you miss out on rewards and you get that creepy feeling that the bully is talking about you behind your back — and on it goes.

Now you are dreading going to work. Every time you see the bully, you break out into a cold sweat. You can’t concentrate on your work. You lie awake at night. It takes over your every waking thought. You panic and you feel really low.

Suddenly you get more headaches, backaches, colds and stomachaches. You become preoccupied and withdrawn at home and your important relationships suffer. You lose your appetite.

You doubt yourself and wonder if you have done anything wrong. You thought you were good at your job and a decent person, but are you sure? Perhaps the bully has a point.

You continue to tolerate the intolerable, in part because you can’t believe that people would actually behave like that. I’ve seen this go on anywhere from six months to six years, but research shows an average of two years.

However, at some point it finally dawns on you: what is happening has a name. It’s called “workplace bullying.”

When you realize that’s what it is, you consider doing something about it — like approaching the bully and discussing it frankly like a rational human being.

You might even consider putting in a complaint to the HR department. Your company, after all, does have policies and procedures for dealing with that sort of thing.

At the same time, your gut tells you that you have a lot to lose. You fear reprisals from the bully. Also, you could be labeled as a “troublemaker” and end up losing your job.

So what do you do? The trick is to catch it as early as possible and take action before it costs you everything.

As soon as you realize what’s going on, you must stop taking it personally and start thinking strategically.

What that means is that from now on your full-time job is dealing with the bullying. Your survival is at stake here and being bullied could spell the end of your job or even your career.

Very few targets come away unscathed from the process, so you need a clear head to effectively address what’s happening.

You must come to terms with the fact that the bully has an agenda. You won’t know exactly what that is, and even if you did it probably wouldn’t make any sense to you. Accept early on that the bully doesn’t think like you do.

Your mere presence has alerted the bully to some kind of threat, and he or she now has you in his or her sights. All this happened before the triggering event. Thereafter, the bully will take up a campaign against you.

You must document all evidence as early as possible. Keep a diary and record every instance of bullying behavior. Keep emails that signal a trail of bullying. Record bullying conversations discreetly on your phone and collect evidence from witnesses.

Then before you make your complaint to HR, evaluate — is this a bully-prone workplace? In another article I give tips on how to recognize these workplaces.

If it is, don’t expect your complaint to lead to a desired outcome. If the process requires you to confront your bully (which could be dangerous) or enter some kind of mediation, your company is labeling it a “personality conflict” and setting you up to take half the responsibility for the bullying.

But go ahead and make the complaint anyway because you are thinking strategically. Line up an experienced lawyer for possible legal action in the future. In the meantime, write your story showing you are being bullied at work and make it compelling. Hone and edit it, as it’s an important piece of evidence, even if you decide not to use it straight away.

Workplace Bullying: The Importance of Catching It Early

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). Workplace Bullying: The Importance of Catching It Early. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Apr 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.