Bullying Worse than Sexual Harassment

Medical Reviewer

Bullying takes many forms but its effects are universal. Victims of bullying feel anxious, angry, depressed and have lowered self-esteem. Now, having reviewed 110 studies over a period of 21 years, researchers have concluded that workplace bullying inflicts more harm on employees than sexual harassment.

Most employers and employee's are aware of the implications of sexual harassment both in terms of potential litigation and social acceptability. So while incidents of sexual harassment have fallen over the years, the number of cases involving bullying is on the increase.

Bullying can best be thought of as negative acts directed towards an individual. There may be a variety of motives such as jealousy, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexuality, or just some sense of perceived weakness or of the person not fitting in. Some of the common ways bullying is expressed in the workplace are:

  • Ageist or sexist comments.
  • Overwork and impossible deadlines.
  • Being isolated from information, opportunities or social activities.
  • Spreading gossip and lies.
  • Being reminded of past mistakes, often in front of other people.
  • Not being given credit for work done.
  • Having work status or future employment threatened.
  • Rudeness, angry exchanges, yelling, being the butt of cruel humor, receiving anonymous emails of messages designed to threaten or demean.

It can be very difficult to prove that bullying is taking place. Employers may see clues in terms of low morale, high rates of absenteeism and sickness, high staff turnover and reduced productivity. The employee who is a victim of bullying can find themselves in an almost impossible situation. How do you prove that a supervisor of colleague is giving you threatening or demeaning looks and that this is affecting your work or chances for promotion? If the employee takes it to a formal hearing they may even find the situation backfiring on them by being accused of hypersensitivity.

M. Sandy Herschovis, Ph.D, of the University of Manitoba and Julian Barling, Ph.D, of Queens University Ontario, Canada, looked at the effect of job, co-worker and supervisor satisfaction, worker's stress, anger and anxiety levels as well as physical and mental health. They found employees who were bullied were more likely to quit their job and have less satisfying relations with bosses and other employees, even when compared to those who had been sexually harassed. Bullied employees report more job stress, less commitment and higher levels of anger and anxiety.

In large complex organizations workplace bullying can be difficult to spot. It is however increasingly important for employers and unions to introduce policy initiatives and staff training to guide employees as to what constitutes bullying. Bullying behavior has nothing but negative consequences for employees and the reputation and profitability of the company.

Bullying Resources:

Workplace bullying institute


American Psychological Association (2008, March 9). Bullying More Harmful Than Sexual Harassment On The Job, Say Researchers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 23, 2008, from http://sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080308090927.htm