5 Subtle Ways Employees Get Bullied (and What to Do)

Defend yourself against a bully's sneaky tactics.

Posted Sep 27, 2017

Bullies don’t always act out. Sometimes the bullying can be subtle but damaging to the bully’s target, and to that person’s career. Here’s how they do it, and what you can do to fight back.

1. Manufacturing a “bad reputation.” Bullies will often work “behind the scenes” ruining a target employee’s reputation. The bully begins the rumor that an employee is a “slacker” or a “troublemaker,” and then makes sure to reinforce that image at every opportunity (“See, she’s out sick again—just proves that she doesn’t care about work.”) Ironically, sometimes the bully will label the target employee a “bully”—reversing the roles by telling other employees how the target has bullied him/her.

Antidote: Although it’s easier said than done, make sure to “polish” your image. Be friendly and helpful to other employees. If you hear rumors about your supposedly bad behaviors, make every effort to prove those rumors false.

2. Constant scapegoating. Whenever a problem arises, or a goal is not met, the bully makes sure to blame the target (“It’s probably him again!”).

Antidote: Make sure to keep a detailed record of your work accomplishments, goals achieved, etc. It is important to not be modest. Speak up for yourself and make sure to let your supervisors know about your ongoing accomplishments.

3. Forming an alliance with the boss. Sometimes a bully will “kiss up” to the boss and will use the friendship to try to destroy you and your career. 

Antidote: Again, make sure to let your boss know about your accomplishments and your dedication to your job and the organization. Don’t be shy when it comes to promoting your good work. Communicate regularly with your superiors and they will likely see through the bully’s false accusations.

4. Using human resources as an unwitting accomplice. Bullies will often run to HR with complaints and accusations of a target’s violations (or get others to complain to HR about you).

Antidote: Document everything! Keep track of your attendance, your work products, and any difficult interactions that you may have with others. Keeping detailed records is important. In addition, if the bully engages in overt bullying, file a complaint with HR, and try to get it substantiated by others. Standing up to a bully sometimes will get the bully to back down (although realize there is the risk of escalation on the bully’s part).

5. Trying to turn your friends and colleagues against you. A bully will try to isolate you from friends and colleagues in order to turn them against you and leave you without a support system. 

Antidote: Be sure to work on maintaining good interpersonal relationships with others. Don’t allow yourself to become isolated. Reach out to friends and colleagues, offer to help them and be a good colleague and role model.

Here are some workplace bullying resources:




Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/ronriggio