Workplace abuse

Workplace abuse (also called workplace bullying) is malicious, often repeated mistreatment at work that damages a target's health. The goal is to undermine confidence and performance.

The Facts

A 2012 survey by CareerBuilder found that:

"35% of workers said they have felt bullied at work."


"Nearly half of workers don’t confront their bullies, and the majority of incidents go unreported."


"The most common way workers reported being bullied was getting blamed for mistakes they didn’t make followed by not being acknowledged and the use of double standards."


"About half (49%) of victims reported confronting the bully themselves, while 51% did not. Of those who confronted the bully, half (50%) said the bullying stopped while 11% said it got worse, and 38% said the bullying didn’t change at all."

Basics of workplace abuse

Much like domestic abuse, workplace abuse is rooted in power and control. It can be obvious — in cases of screaming public humiliation, disciplining or taking away work without cause, and put-downs — or subtle — in cases of exclusion, behind-the-back sabotage, gossip, minimizing achievements, creating unreasonable workloads, going into personal belongings, and withholding resources.

The abuse often escalates: the abuser misrepresents an issue to others to get them to side with them, leaving the target isolated. 

What's worse: targets are generally competence workers whose skills and ethics pose a threat to abusers.

When employers allow workplace abuse to fester, they allow abusers' personal agendas to take priority over the needs of their organizations.

Workplace abuse isn't just a bad day at work. Employers must still manage, including toxic behavior.

When we talk about workplace abuse, we don't mean enforcing existing policies, evaluating performance fairly, giving honest feedback, and denying requests and disciplining with just cause. Employers should be allowed to address problem behavior in a fair way.

Behavior becomes abuse when it's done without just cause and instead out of love of power and control.

Abusers abuse to take away power from those whose competence and ethics pose a threat to them. They often aim to boost their own images at the expense of those who look good based on their own merit. The root of their behavior is low self-image.

When confronted, they don't take responsibility for their actions. 

  • Stress symptoms: anxiety, depression, digestive issues, heart disease, high blood pressure, eating problems, and loss of sleep
  • Grief symptoms: feelings of shock, anger, helplessness, and isolation leading to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and suicidal thoughts
  • Abuse effects: loss of confidence and loss of faith in competence
  • Personal relationships damage: marriage strain and damage to relationships with friends and family who tire of listening to rehashing of the abuse
  • If the target leaves, income and health insurance loss, adding to stress levels

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