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Adult Bullying in the Workplace: More Common Than You Might Think

By HERWriter
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Adult Bullying: More Common in the Workplace Than You Might Think Erwin Wodicka/PhotoSpin

Media reactions to celebrity dermatologist Dr. Fredric Brandt’s tragic suicide may have created an unintentional opportunity to bring the issue of adult bullying into the spotlight.

Several sources hinted at the possibility that Brandt may have been devastated by the close similarities between himself and a plastic surgeon character on Tina Fey’s Netflix show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Celebrities often provide the inspiration for many parodies, which could be considered borderline bullying — but that's another story.

Although it is not likely that Brandt actually committed suicide as a result, such parodies may not help the self-esteem of celebrities who may be suffering from mental health issues such as depression.

The question arises, is adult bullying actually an issue for us common folk, not just something celebrities have to deal with?

It certainly is a common issue. In fact, PBS addresses adult bullying in its series “This Emotional Life.” It focuses on the workplace as being a common place where bullying may occur.

“Different from constructive criticism or conflict, bullying is persistent, it focuses on a person rather than a task, and the recipient feels powerless to stop it,” according to the PBS website.

Charmaine Hammond, a professional speaker and author, said in an email that she works as a consultant and workplace facilitator. She often provides training and intervention regarding workplace bullying, conflict and harassment.

“I define bullying as repeated and intentional acts of verbal, physical, social or psychological behaviour that is harmful to another person,” she said.

Bullying can focus on many different targets such as a person’s gender, disability and ethnicity. It also can involve threats, intimidation, humiliation and other forms of harassment, Hammond said.

Elayne Savage, a psychotherapist and workplace consultant, said in an email that if you’re not sure if a statement or action would be considered bullying, ask yourself this question: “Would most people consider this action unacceptable?”

Although Hammond thinks that there are some differences between childhood and adult bullying, they are still quite similar.

“It is important to help people recognize that differences in opinion (conflict) is not the same as bullying,” Hammond said. “Often children, and adults, repeatedly joke inappropriately with an underlying message to humiliate or degrade a person, and pass it off as ‘just joking!’”

Women also tend to be less physically aggressive when involved in acts of bullying in professional settings like the workplace, she added.

Savage said that women may use other tactics more than men, such as gossip, taunting, shunning, ignoring and excluding.

They may also spread rumors, tell secrets, and use more dramatic motions such as eye-rolling, pointing, giggling and whispering. Cyberbullying is also very popular.

As a former mediator and conflict resolution expert, Hammond knows firsthand that bullying does not just happen to children.

“I believe that there is increasing awareness about bullying and harassment, and I see more businesses and organizations investing in training and appropriate interventions to create safe, respectful workplaces, which is a very positive shift,” Hammond said.

Some common methods of adult bullying according to Hammond include:

1) Spreading malicious and harmful rumors, gossip and innuendos that aren’t true.

2) Using intimidation, physical threats, yelling or profanity.

3) Making hurtful and offensive jokes.

4) Sabotaging someone by set impossible deadlines that will guarantee failure.

5) Undermining or deliberately impeding another person’s work.

6) Withholding important information, or deliberately providing the wrong information.

7) Using technology to do any of the above, including via email, texting and social media.

So adults can just brush all of this off, right?

In some cases maybe. At the very least, bullying can cause stress, Hammond said.

Bullying can actually be quite harmful in many cases, especially because it often goes unreported.

Savage added that bullying may lead to anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, and tension. Someone being bullied can experience feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, and a loss of confidence. They can have headaches and stomach pain, as well as issues with their sleep, concentration and appetite.

Bullying may also lead to reduced productivity and low morale, Savage added.

So how can adult bullying be brought to an end?

In the workplace, a good place to start is making sure there are clear policies regarding bullying, harassment and unacceptable behaviors, Hammond said.

Training should be provided to all employees, and they should know how to report a case of bullying and how to respond, she added. It would also be helpful to provide training in conflict resolution, and giving and receiving proper feedback.

In some cases, you may be able to confront a bully in the workplace and explain how their behavior is hurtful and negatively affecting others, and they may actually stop if they didn’t realize this before.

Sadly this is often not the case. This is why the issue of bullying needs to be brought to light and dealt with more effectively.


Trebay, Guy. The New York Times. Dr. Fredric Brandt, 65, Celebrity ‘Baron of Botox,’ is Dead. Web. April 8, 2015.

PBS. Adult Bullying. Workplace bullying. Web. April 10, 2015.

Hammond, Charmaine. Email interview. April 8, 2015.

Savage, Elayne. Email interview. April 9, 2015.

Reviewed April 10, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

WOOWW finally I see something about bulling at work by adults who are much worse than children (evi) I was bullied by a mentally ill teacher who controled other of her followers in her bulling. I took this for 14years !!!! I know for a fact that if I had gone to a lawyer she would had been fired because many of the things she did were very ilegal, and more in a school situation. Her bulling came fron envie and obsesion of power. It got so bad that became her mental illness.

April 18, 2015 - 9:49pm
EmpowHER Guest

I am being cyberbullied. I went to see what laws were out there and found that there are very few that protect adults, but I did find one in my state. This person will only get a slap on the wrist and will most likely keep on doing what he is doing. I am saddened that these things are rarely brought to public attention until tragedy strikes.

April 17, 2015 - 12:43am
EmpowHER Guest

This is such a good article! At first I just thought that maybe in my office setting I was being to emotional and taking things to personal but this article has brought a lot of interesting points and the most important one is a form of abuse. It's very sad really because sometimes for someone to feel better about them selfs they need to make others look bad! I hope I never have any of those traits! Thank you.

April 16, 2015 - 8:05pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

these type of people (bullies) have a very low selfsteam, envie, inferiority complex, and some mental illness. They need to bully others to feed their ''self ego''.

April 18, 2015 - 9:55pm
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