What are the Signs of Bullying in the Workplace?

Bullying at work

Signs of workplace bullying include intimidation, constant criticism, unrealistic expectations, humiliation in meetings, spreading false rumours and exclusion from groups.

Often, it is difficult to separate bullying at work from friendly ‘banter’. As a result, bullies may look to disguise offensive behaviours as jokes. However, whether it comes from another employee or a boss, a person shouldn’t have to deal with it.

A bully in the workplace can cause a whole host of different personal or business problems. People may be bullied physically, verbally or socially at work, leading to physical and psychological issues.


Signs of Workplace Bullying


The definition of intimidation includes any comment or contact that is unwelcome and offensive. It involves an abuse of power that leaves victims feeling small and powerless. Types include physical, verbal or non-verbal.[1] The term has a very similar definition to harassment, meaning a bully may target a particular personal trait like ethnicity or religion.

Examples include threats “to fire you, making threatening gestures, or threatening to physically harm you”.[2]

Unlike other factors on this list, this sign of workplace bullying isn’t exactly subtle. This is because it usually involves shouting or physical contact.


Constant Criticism

Constant criticism feels very undermining and makes a person feel worthless in the organisation. It involves “making an employee constantly feel that they are the problem, shaming them for no real wrongdoing”.[3] Little critical remarks add up, leading to huge emotional stress.

An example in the workplace is when a boss criticises an employee in a weekly meeting for poor and sub-standard work.


Unrealistic Expectations

An employee is given unrealistic expectations when they are expected to do something almost impossible in their job. It can also include things that are not part of an employee’s job description. Furthermore, it is often coupled with little-to-no support from the person making the demand, leading to intimidation.

For example, a boss may give an employee a target to increase sales by 500% in the next quarter. The boss knows that the demand cannot be met because all they want to do is undermine the worker for failing. This is a ‘bully boss’, who abuses their power to make others feel small.



Another sign of a bully boss is humiliation. A work bully may humiliate a person then they expose a mistake or what they consider to be consistently poor work.

This is one of the most public acts of bullying, as it happens in meetings or offices in front of everyone. That is the very point because the bully is letting everyone know. This can strain work relationships and make a person feel embarrassed in front of their respected work friends.


Spreading False Rumours

Spreading false rumours behind someone’s back is very hard to stop. In addition, a victim often won’t even know that it is happening, until the damage has been done.

Rumours can spread in the workplace or on online platforms like social media. This is a case of cyberbullying.

They can be very destructive. If they relate to work or a work colleague, relationships can break down fast.


Exclusion from Group Work

Often, false rumours can lead to being excluded from group activities. This occurs when someone singles out a colleague, who are denied access to the group.

Being bullied in this way can happen at work during activities, or outside of work. It makes a person feel alone, meaning they don’t enjoy work anymore.


You can view our Bullying and Harassment online training course here.


[1] http://www.salfordcc.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/IHB03-Definitions-and-Examples-of-Intimidation-Harassment-and-Bullying-01.03.15.pdf

[2] http://www.salfordcc.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/IHB03-Definitions-and-Examples-of-Intimidation-Harassment-and-Bullying-01.03.15.pdf

[3] https://www.yourerc.com/blog/post/20-subtle-signs-of-workplace-bullying