Oppression in workplaces in the form of Harassment, Bullying and Abuse has been occurring since time immemorial and, until recently, it was something that did not really have any solution. Victims suffered in silence and put up with the stress, anxiety and damage to wellbeing if they wanted to earn their pay. While there is definitely more awareness about harassment issues today and organisations are keen to address them, there is still a disturbingly high number of harassment, bullying and abuse cases that are either handled poorly or completely ignored and swept under the rug.

Abuse can come in physical, verbal and psychological forms and can vary in levels of intensity. Here are a few examples of types of harassment and what they might look like:

  • Discriminatory Harassment: being abused based on a demographic factor such as race, gender, religion, sexuality, age or disability.
  • Personal Harassment: being abused about a something personal to you such as appearance or a characteristic.
  • Sexual Harassment: unwelcome and/or inappropriate sexual behaviour by a person upon another.
  • Power Harassment: abuse characterised by a power disparity often seen between a supervisor who victimises their subordinates.
  • Cyberbullying: when forms of abuse manifest themselves through digital channels.

It is difficult to quantify exactly how much workplace abuse is occurring. Examples of recent statistics are as follows:

  • Monster found 90% of their correspondents directly experienced bullying on the job
  • A study by Kowalski (2014) noted 30% of subjects experienced workplace bullying
  • National Safety Council estimates 60 million Americans (Over a third of the workforce) are the victims of bullying.

The discrepancy in these estimates could be due to victims not wanting to officially report harassment without anonymity, possibly due to shame or fear of reprisal. For example, the BBC claim 15% of workers experienced bullying within the last 3 years, with only half of them reporting it. So, while the numbers may not be clear, it is clear that harassment, bullying and abuse remains a huge issue in the workplace.

Why is it an issue?

There is a perception that bullying doesn’t really affect the bottom line so what’s the point in acting if it isn’t affecting business. Studies in workplace bullying have actually shown that there can be a significant detrimental impact on the business.

Workplace bullying has been found to cause high role conflict, high role ambiguity, low organisational commitment, low job satisfaction, high workplace deviance, high intentions to leave, low perceptors of organisational justice, and low team cohesion (Samnani, 2012).

Bullying is also associated with more destructive leadership, more team conflict and less effective organisational strategies (Gardner, 2016) implying that toxic work atmospheres can have a substantial negative effect on job performance.

On top of this you would expect that leaders should feel a moral obligation to protect the general wellbeing of their staff regardless of how it immediately affects finances. The BBC found victims of workplace abuse can suffer from stress, anxiety, insomnia, heart palpitations and suicidal thoughts.

Samnani (2012) found victims can also suffer from low self-esteem, low psychological wellbeing, high burnout and low life satisfaction. Even if there are leaders out there who do not care about the affect harassment can have on the job performance or physical health of their staff, they still might be forced to make changes by law.

We are seeing more and more anti-harassment measures and incentives being put into practice. Universities could fail to secure funding and even lose their status if they fail to prove they have made adequate progress in stifling harassment by 2022. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have set out new guidance on workplace harassment prevention in response to widespread demand, this guidance will soon become enforceable by law. One employee received a £120,000 pay out after years of bullying culminated in threatening behaviour. Leaders and managers should undoubtedly be reconsidering their stance on toxic culture in light of these cases but how can they actually prevent bullying?



Gardner, D.H., O’Driscoll, M.P., Cooper-Thomas, H.D., Roche, M., Bentley, T., Catley, B., Teo, S.T., & Trenberth, L.D. (2016). Predictors of Workplace Bullying and Cyber-Bullying in New Zealand. International journal of environmental research and public health.

Kowalski, R & Giumetti, G & Schroeder, A & Lattanner, M. (2014). ‘Bullying in the Digital Age: A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of Cyberbullying Research Among Youth.’ Psychological bulletin. 140.

Samnani, A.-K., & Singh, P. (2012). ‘20 years of workplace bullying research: A review of the antecedents and consequences of bullying in the workplace.’ Aggression and Violent Behavior, 17(6), 581–589.


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