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Types of Workplace Bullying

Types of Workplace Bullying

Bullying in the workplace is a particularly common problem. There are three main types of bullying conduct at work: physical, psychological, and cyberbullying. Each type has its own unique features and can be very damaging to the victim's mental health. In this article, we'll take a closer look at various bullying situations so that managers can learn to effectively contribute toward creating a harassment-free and healthy workplace.

What Is Workplace Bullying

Bullying in the workplace is a repeated and deliberate violation of an individual's dignity by one or more other employees. It can take the form of physical, verbal, or psychological harassment, and can have a profound effect on employees' health, both physical and mental. Bullying at work is not simply a case of "a bit of fun that got out of hand"; it is a systematic campaign of victimization of the person harassed that causes lasting damage.

Types of Bullying in the Workplace

Cyberbullying, psychological bullying, and physical bullying are the three types of bullying in the workplace. All of these types are persistent patterns of harassment from others in the workplace that pose a risk to the employees' safety and work performance.

Physical Bullying

Physical workplace bullying is any type of physical aggression or violence that occurs in the workplace. This can include everything from minor acts of aggression, such as pushing or shoving, to more serious forms of violence, such as sexual abuse, assault, and battery.

One of the most common possible reasons for physical workplace bullying is a lack of communication. When coworkers do not feel like they can openly communicate with one another, they may resort to physical aggression. Additionally, this type of workplace bullying often arises from power imbalances between employees. Those who feel like they have less power or authority may lash out physically in order to try to assert themselves. Finally, physical bullying can also be a result of stress and anxiety. When employees are feeling overwhelmed, they may take out their frustration on those around them.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 21 thousand workers in the private sector experienced trauma from workplace violence in 2019. 68% of workplace violence victims were female, 70% worked in the healthcare and social assistance industry, and 21% required 31 or more days away from work to recover. [1]

Physical workplace bullying can be illustrated through these examples:

  • In 2017, a co-founder of The Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein, was fired after accusations of being engaged in continuous large-scale sexual harassment. These allegations by actresses and his former employees go back decades. Following the publishing of the exposé, almost 1000 people came forward to accuse a minimum of 200 prominent men of sexual misconduct and harassment, after which they were fired from their positions. [2], [3]
  • Negligence by managers can also lead to physical abuse at work. Seventeen employees working at 13 Chicago McDonald’s restaurants alleged the fast-food giant did little to protect them from “physical harm they experienced while working at McDonald’s restaurants.” For instance, employees often were threatened by customers, an employee once found a man lying in a pool of blood in the bathroom, and a worker claimed her manager advised her to throw oil from a deep-fryer at customers if she felt threatened. [4]

Psychological Bullying

Psychological bullying in the workplace is a persistent pattern of behavior that seeks to belittle, undermine, humiliate, or otherwise cause distress to a targeted employee. This type of bullying can take many different forms, but all share the common goal of diminishing the victim's sense of self-worth and contributing to a hostile work environment. Psychological bullying can be particularly insidious because it often goes undetected by management and HR due to its subtle nature.

The first reason why this type of bullying occurs is the fact that a workplace can be a highly competitive environment, and some employees will go to great lengths to get ahead. Second, power imbalances can lead to psychological bullying, as those in positions of authority may use their power to intimidate or control others. Finally, workplace cultures that value productivity over well-being can create an environment where psychological bullying and harassment are tolerated or even encouraged.

Here are a couple of examples of psychological bullying at work:

  • In Ireland, bullying at work costs 250 million euros per year in sick days and staff replacements. Even though the majority of Irish companies should have anti-bullying policies, not much is known about how these policies are made effective. A woman spoke to the Irish times about one of her superiors' continuous targeting. “I thought he was going to hit me. He was shouting into my face. Nobody will listen to us, they say we have no witnesses, despite the fact I was coming out of work crying. They say if you have a grievance, you should do x y, and z. I have gone exactly by the rule book and nothing has been done.”[5]
  • Emotional harassment can be illustrated through a young assistant's experience in an A-list Hollywood talent management company. While her peers received $40,000 for entry-level positions, she was offered $22,000 per year. It came to her as a great shock when the agent told her she would need to change her name. She had recently employed another woman with her name—and that person was still working for her. The assistant reported working 12 hours a day and being subjected to shouting, criticism, and berating all day, then receiving high compliments at the end - a strategy that aimed to keep workers attached to the company for as long as possible. [6]


Cyberbullying at work is a growing problem. With more and more employees spending time online, it's becoming easier for bullies to anonymously target their victims. Cyberbullying at work can take many forms, but some common examples include sending threatening or derogatory messages, posting embarrassing photos or videos, spreading rumors or lies about someone, or deliberately excluding someone from work-related events.

The reason why cyberbullying may occur in the workplace is that the internet makes it easier for workers to communicate anonymously, which allows people to say things that they would never say to someone's face. Secondly, a workplace is often characterized by a hierarchy, with some employees holding more power than others. This power dynamic could encourage someone as a workplace bully, as those in positions of power may attempt to control or belittle those who are lower on the totem pole.

Here's how cyberbullying can play out at work:

  • A new employee at a PR firm in London tells her story: “My colleagues would be emailing or texting each other while in the same room and then smirking and laughing at each other. They would purposely message me the wrong time to arrive at events, so they could then tell the boss I was late. They also repeatedly didn’t copy me into other email communications so I was left in the dark about what was going on at work. I began to dread going to work and became paranoid. I felt constantly anxious and close to tears,” she said. [7]
  • A study found that the pandemic had a significant effect on cyberbullying levels on Twitter. The analysis of almost half a million cyberbullying-related tweets revealed a direct correlation between the time of the pandemic and incidents of cyberbullying. [8 ]It can be assumed that this translated into the workplace, too. Possible reasons for a rise in cyber-harassment during the pandemic could be increased amounts of anxiety, fear about one's health, and hostility towards others.


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.

2 Twohay, 2017.

3 The New York Times, 2018.

4 Selvam & Waxman, 2019.

5 Kenny, 2021.

6 Tammy, 2021.

7 Shearman, 2017.

8 Karmakar & Das, 2021.

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