How Support Helps Mitigate the Impact of Bullying

woman hugging another woman, showing support
What can you do if you see bullying in your organization? How can you support?

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Unfortunately, bullying behavior exists in the workplace at alarming rates. We’ve talked about bullying before and a few ways to combat it. Today, we wanted to share new research on the impact of bullying day-to-day and how coworkers’ support can help!

What is Bullying at Work?

First, it’s helpful to refresh our memories on how bullying at work is defined. Researchers define it as repeated and prolonged exposures to negative acts from others at work. In other words, you experience bullying when you are consistently treated badly by coworkers. Bullying comes in different forms, from things that are more obvious to more subtle behaviors. It an be indirect and passive or direct and active. It can also take the form of person-related bullying or work-related bullying.

Direct bullying can include things like yelling, verbal threats, and humiliation.

Let’s look at a few examples to break these different forms down. When bullying is person-related, its about ruining the social experience at work. For example, an employee indirectly bullies a colleague in a person-related way by ignoring them or spreading rumors about their personal life. On the other hand, a direct person-related behavior would include something like physical intimidation or verbal threats. When it comes to work-related bullying, these behaviors are meant to ruin an employee’s professional identity or harm their ability to do their work. For example, an employe indirectly bullies a coworker in a work-related way by not giving them all of the information needed to do a task well. In another example, a toxic employee directly bullies a colleague by making fun of their work in a team meeting.

In sum, direct bullying is a more visible and active behavior, while indirect bullying is less visible but can make people feel alone. Person-related behaviors destroy the employee’s social experience while work-related behaviors destroy the employee’s ability to do good work.

Bullying, Psychological Needs, and Emotional Support

So, what impact does bullying have on the target of the negative behaviors? Obviously, it’s super harmful. Bullying leads to things like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and burnout. In addition, recent research shows that bullying can lead to employee’s psychological needs not being met at work. We know that for employees to feel happy at work, they need to feel a sense of control or autonomy, that they are competent, and that they are connected to others in the workplace. Sadly, when an employee is a victim of bullying, they feel like their needs are not met – they feel less control, less competent, and less connected to others.

Emotional support can buffer the impact of direct bullying.

Emotional Support

So what can you do? This new study shows that emotional support can be helpful. When coworkers provide emotional support after an employee experiences direct bullying, it can buffer the impact on the employee’s sense of competence and connection to others. This can be majorly helpful in reducing the impact of bullying on the victim’s well-being.

Unfortunately, emotional support hasn’t been found to help when indirect bullying happens. We don’t fully know why but it is likely a more difficult type of bullying to understand and seek support for. Indirect bullying can sometimes seem to an outsider like a mistake on the part of the bully and not an intentional behavior. But, we think there’s a way to help! When someone comes to you with an experience of indirect bullying, take their feelings seriously. Provide the best emotional support you can! It may not fully buffer the impact of indirect bullying but hopefully the victim can still feel connected to you as their coworker.

If you are experiencing bullying, our advice would be to report it first. But, then, we encourage you to talk to a friend at work! Share your story and get some emotional support. It can help your well-being!

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