Types of Bullying

Tim Field identified several different types of bullying at workplaces:

Pressure Bullying

Unwitting or pressure bullying is where the stress of the moment causes behaviour to deteriorate; the person becomes short-tempered, irritable and may shout or swear at others. Everybody does this from time to time, but when the pressure is removed, behaviour returns to normal, the person recognises the inappropriateness of their behaviour, makes amends, and may apologise, and - crucially - learns from the experience so that next time the situation arises they are better able to deal with it. This is "normal" behaviour and I do not include pressure bullying in my definition of workplace bullying.

Organisational Bullying

A combination of pressure bullying and corporate bullying, and occurs when an organisation struggles to adapt to changing markets, reduced income, cuts in budgets, imposed expectations, and other external pressures.

Corporate Bullying

Corporate bullying is where an employer abuses employees with impunity especially where the law is weak and jobs are scarce, eg:

  • coercing employees to work 60/70/80 weeks on a regular basis then making life hell for (or dismissing) anyone who objects
  • dismissing anyone who looks like having a stress breakdown as an award of compensation for unfair dismissal is likely to be much lower than a personal injury award;
  • using "absence management" to deny employees annual or sick leave to which they are genuinely entitled;
  • using zero-hours contracts as a means of denying workers predictable, stable finances;
  • snooping and spying on employees, eg by monitoring telephone conversations, using the "mystery shopper", asking leading questions of customers behind employees' backs, conducting covert video surveillance, using personnel officers or private investigators to observe employees who are on sick leave etc;
  • operating a policy of totting up minor indiscretions (such as taking sick leave), and dismissing workers when they have accumulated a small number of such indiscretions;
  • making employees compete with each other and routinely dismissing those with the lowest score;
  • regarding employees suffering from stress as "weak" and "inadequate", but actively ignoring and denying work-based causes of the stress - e.g. poor management and bullying;
  • encouraging employees to fabricate complaints about colleagues;
  • encouraging employees to give up permanent roles in favour of short-term contracts; anyone who resists has their life made hell

Institutional Bullying

Institutional bullying is similar to corporate bullying and arises when bullying becomes entrenched and accepted as part of the culture. People are moved, permanent roles are replaced by short-term contracts on less favourable terms with little alternative but to accept; workloads increase, schedules change, roles change, career progression paths are blocked or terminated, etc, all without consultation.

Client Bullying

Client bullying is where employees are bullied by those they serve, eg teachers are bullied (and often assaulted) by pupils and their parents, nurses are bullied by patients and their relatives, social workers are bullied by their clients, and shop/bank/building society staff are bullied by customers. Often the client is claiming their perceived right (eg to better service) in an abusive, derogatory and often physically violent manner. This can happen in reverse, where nurses bully patients, teachers bully pupils and so on.

Serial Bullying

Serial bullying is where an individual picks on one employee after another and destroys them. This is the most common type of bullying Tim Field came across, and he put a great deal of time into studying the Serial Bully. He considered the serial bully to exhibit the behavioural characteristics of a socialised psychopath.

Secondary Bullying

Secondary bullying is mostly unwitting conduct that people start to exhibit when there's a serial bully in the department. The pressure of trying to deal with a dysfunctional, divisive and aggressive serial bully causes everyone's behaviour to decline.

Pair Bullying

Pair bullying is a serial bully with a colleague. Often one does the talking whilst the other watches and listens. Usually it's the quiet one you need to watch.

Gang Bullying (a.k.a. "Mobbing")

Gang bullying is a serial bully with colleagues. Gangs can occur anywhere, but flourish in corporate bullying climates.

  • If the bully is an extrovert (a shouter and screamer) they are likely to be leading from the front, and should be easily recognisable.
  • If the bully is an introvert, he or she may be in the background initiating the mayhem but not taking an active part, and may thus be harder to identify. A common tactic of this type of bully is to tell everybody a different story - usually about what others are alleged to have said about that person - and encourage each person to think they are the only one with the correct story. Introvert bullies are very dangerous.
  • Half the people in the gang seem happy for the opportunity to behave badly, gaining gratification from the feeling of power and control, and they enjoy the patronage, protection and reward from the serial bully. The other half of the gang are coerced into joining in, usually through fear of being the next target if they don't. If anything backfires, one of these coercees will be the scapegoat on whom enraged targets will be encouraged to vent their anger. The serial bully watches from a safe distance. Serial bullies appear to gain a great deal of gratification from encouraging and watching others engage in conflict, especially those who might otherwise pool negative information about them.
  • Gang bullying or group bullying is often called mobbing and usually involves scapegoating and victimisation.

Vicarious Bullying

Vicarious bullying is where two parties are encouraged to engage in adversarial interaction or conflict. It is similar to mobbing, but the bully may or may not be directly connected with either of the two parties. One party becomes an instrument of the bully's harassment, and is deceived and manipulated into bullying the other party. An example of vicarious bullying is where the serial bully creates conflict between employer and employee, participating occasionally to stoke the conflict, but rarely taking an active part in the conflict themselves.

Regulation Bullying

Regulation bullying is where a serial bully forces their target to comply with rules, regulations, procedures or laws regardless of their appropriateness, applicability or necessity. Legal bullying - the bringing of a vexatious legal action to control and punish a person - is one of the nastiest forms of bullying because of the enormous drain that legal action puts on a person.

Residual Bullying

Residual bullying is the bullying of all kinds that continues after the serial bully has left. Like recruits like and like promotes like, therefore the serial bully bequeaths a dysfunctional environment to those who are left. This can last for years.

Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying is the misuse of communication technology (email, SMS texts, social networks, Internet forums etc) for conducting campaigns of hatred. The impersonality and distance between bully and target makes such technology an effective means to cause conflict and hurt. Cyber bullying can be "private" in the sense that the target receives text messages, or "public", where the target is defamed and subject to specious or sarcastic allegations of unsavoury actions, conduct or personality traits etc, in front of a wide audience. One way that a cyber bully tries to provoke a reaction from his or her target is to use email, and to visibly copy as many people as possible, possibly in the hope that others will join in, but in any case having the effect of letting the target see that the bully's message is widely visible. Social networking websites are another medium where the bully can show off to a wide audience.

Hierarchical Bullying, Peer Bullying, Upward Bullying

The majority of cases of workplace bullying reported to Tim Field's UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line involved an individual being bullied by their manager, accounting for around 75% of cases. Around a quarter of cases involved bullying and harassment by peers (often with the collusion of a manager either by proactive involvement or by the manager refusing to take action). While only 2% of reported cases involved the bullying of a manager by a subordinate, it does happen.

Reactive Bullying or Revenge

This website deals primarily with the phenomenon of people being bullied simply because they are there, or because they possess positive characteristics. For the sake of completeness however, it is necessary to mention that reacting to bullying in an unreasonable manner can also constitute bullying.

Bullying behaviours can be learned from one person and can disseminate through an organisation, to the point that everyone is bullying everyone else. If a person responds to bullying with bullying, as opposed to a reasonable and assertive response, they can lose the moral high ground and the right to criticise the behaviour to which they were subjected. A person who is sexually flirtatious with colleagues does not put him or herself in a position to complain if one of their colleagues then flirts with them. Someone who responds to name-calling with name-calling, and then complains about it will implicitly criticise their own conduct when they make their complaint.

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