Contexts of Workplace Bullying


Workplace bullying can occur in many different contexts as outlined below.


Pressure bullying or unwitting bullying is where the stress of the moment causes behaviour to deteriorate and the person to become short-tempered, irritable and possibly shout or swear at others. Everybody does this from time to time, but when the pressure is removed, behaviour returns to normal, the person recognises the inappropriateness of their behaviour, makes amends, and may apologise, and most importantly, learns from the experience so that the next time the situation arises they are better able to deal with it.

Corporate bullying is where the employer abuses employees by:

·         Coercing employees to work unreasonably long hour on a regular basis then makes life very unpleasant (or dismissing) anyone who objects

·         Dismissing anyone who looks like having a stress breakdown as it’s cheaper to pay the costs of unfair dismissal at Employment Tribunal than risk facing a personal injury claim

·         Introducing “absence management” to deny employees annual or sick leave to which they are genuinely entitled

·         Regularly spying on employees, e.g. by listening in to telephone conversations, contacting customers behind employees backs and asking leading questions, conducting covert video surveillance, sending personnel officers or private investigators to an employee’s home to interrogate the employees whilst on sick leave, threatening employees with interrogation the moment they return from sick leave, etc.

·         Deeming any employee suffering from stress as weak and inadequate whilst aggressively ignoring and denying the actual causeof stress (bad management and bullying)

·         “Encouraging” employees (with promises of promotion and/or threats of disciplinary action) to fabricate complaints about their colleagues

·         Strongly “encouraging” employees to give up full-time permanent positions in favour of short-term contracts. 

Organisational bullying is a combination of pressure bullying and corporate bullying and occurs when an organisation struggles to adapt to changing markets, reduced income, budget cuts, imposed expectations, and other external pressures. 

Institutional bullying is similar to corporate bullying and arises when bullying becomes entrenched and accepted as part of the culture. People are moved, long-existing contracts are replaced with new short-term ones on less favourable terms with the accompanying threat of “agree to this or else”, workloads are increased, work schedules and roles are changed, career progression paths are blocked or terminated –all without consultation. 

Client bullying is where employees are bullied by those they serve, e.g. teachers are bullied (and often assaulted) by pupils and their parents, nurses by patients and their relatives, social workers by their clients, and shop/bank/building society staff by customers. Often the client is claiming their perceived right (e.g. to better service) in an abusive, derogatory and often physically violent manner. Client bullying can also be employees bullying their clients. 

Serial bullying is where the source of all dysfunction can be traced to one individual, who picks on one employee after another and destroys them. This is the most common type of bullying.

Secondary bullying is mostly unwitting bullying which people start exhibiting when there’s a serial bully in the department. The pressure of trying to deal with a dysfunctional, divisive and aggressive serial bully causes everyone’s behaviour to decline.

Pair bullying is a serial bully with a colleague. Often one does the talking whilst the other watches and listens – usually it’s the quiet one you need to watch.

Gang bullying is a serial bully with colleagues. Gangs can occur anywhere, but flourish in corporate bullying climates. If the bully is an extrovert, they are likely to be leading from the front; they may also be a shouter and screamer, and thus easily identifiable. If the bully is an introvert, that person will be in the background initiating the mayhem but probably not taking an active part, and may thus be harder to identify. A common tactic of this type of bully is to tell everybody a different story – usually about what others are alleged to have said about that person – and encourage each person to think they are the only one with the correct story. Half the people in the gang are happy for the opportunity to behave badly; they gain gratification from the feeling of power and control, and enjoy the patronage, protection and reward from the serial bully.

The other half of the gang is coerced into joining in, usually through fear of being the next target if they don’t. If anything backfires, one of these people will be the scapegoat on whom enraged targets will be encouraged to vent their anger. The serial bully watches from a safe distance and gains a great deal of gratification from encouraging and watching others engage in conflict, especially those who might otherwise pool negative information about them. Gang bullying or group bullying is often called mobbing and usually involves scapegoating and victimisation.
Vicarious bullying is where two parties are encouraged to engage in adversarial interaction or conflict. This is similar to gang bullying, although the bully may or may not be directly connected with either of the two parties. One party becomes the bully’s instrument of harassment and is deceived and manipulated into bullying the other party. An example of vicarious bullying is where the serial bully creates conflict between employer and employee, participating occasionally to stoke the conflict, but rarely taking an active part in the conflict themselves. 

Regulation bullying is where a serial bully forces their target to comply with rules, regulations, procedures or laws regardless of their appropriateness, applicability or necessity.

Legal bullying is the bringing of a vexatious legal action to control and punish a person and is one of the nastiest forms of bullying.

Note: the material on this particular page is primarily sourced from Bully Online.