Bullying at work: psychological consequences and solutions

Is bullying a phenomenon that we leave behind after kindergarten? You have to be able to tolerate a bit of bullying among colleagues, right? Both painful misunderstandings. Bullying at work is an extensive problem that is receiving increasing attention. That’s a good thing. No matter how harmless bullying seems, it can seriously affect your job satisfaction and even your enjoyment of life. About the psychological consequences and solutions.

Being bullied, what do you do about it?

One unpleasant incident with a colleague or employee does not immediately deserve the label of bullying. But if the incidents come together, you would do well not to ignore the situation. Unjustified shame and the feeling that there must be something wrong with you can lead to you continuing to work until there is no longer any job satisfaction or absenteeism due to illness. Be there on time. The first step is a personal, as down-to-earth evaluation as possible: what do you experience? How does that make you feel? Has this been going on long? Is there any prospect of the situation changing, for example due to changes in the composition of the staff? Who is involved? Are you just not feeling well, or does something really need to change at work from a down-to-earth point of view? Some, but certainly not all, red flags include:

  • There are structural situations in which you feel belittled, undervalued or even discriminated against. It is not an incident, it is a longer-term problem
  • You enjoy your work or even your life less and less. You feel growing anxiety or uneasiness about the idea that you will have to go to work soon
  • Vague physical and psychological complaints arise such as fatigue, loss or unusual increase in appetite, a feeling of dullness, stomach pain, experiencing hopelessness, reduced ability to cope with problems

The five most famous forms of bullying at work

  • Social isolation
  • Always assigning annoying jobs to one person
  • Making personal comments regarding someone’s personality, behavior, colloquialisms or private circumstances
  • ‘Verbal abuse’, gossiping, spreading bad rumors

Talk to the bully

Decide for yourself whether you can talk to the bullying colleague(s). Sometimes a bully only understands that certain comments are hurtful when you – sober and controlled! – points out the unpleasantness of his actions. But there are also bullies who have bullying as a way of life. Then a good conversation won’t change anything, and it’s time for the company you work for to get involved. A company even has the right to suspend harassers under certain circumstances. (Also) for this it is useful to keep a diary in which you note what happens, when and how. But just as well, writing down your feelings and experiences is a rewarding outlet.

Guard your self-esteem

Those who are bullied must take themselves seriously above all else. Experts point out that the person who may have something wrong with them psychologically or socially is usually the bully and not the one being bullied! Moreover, it appears that those who feel threatened can turn to bullying behavior: in other words, even a striking talent can lead to you becoming the scapegoat. The fact that bullying often only concerns one person usually has an explanation other than your personality: people will not easily side with the bullied colleague. Before you know it, you are the bully yourself… so once the scapegoat has been chosen, an iron construction of bullies and bullied(s) is created. This must and can be prevented, but not always by one person alone.

The role of your employer

Be aware of your right to contact the company if necessary. Because companies can be held accountable for the consequences of bullying, a company will take bullying seriously. Case law shows that companies are increasingly being held liable for psychological and actual damage. That is why many companies have appointed a so-called confidential counselor whom employees can turn to. If there is no confidant, the immediate manager is the most obvious person to call in if you are confronted with bullying behavior.

Share your suffering

Harsh reality: a simple and ready-made solution rarely appears spontaneously. There is usually a complex situation to be confronted and a personal path to be taken. Don’t hide the problem out of unwarranted shame. Start talking about it with loved ones, possibly visiting one of the online forums and support groups. Google bullying at work or bullying at work and you will find them. Make yourself continuously stronger and more resilient throughout the entire process towards a solution.

Self-care and self-management

All necessary action that needs to be taken, of whatever kind, starts with yourself: letting go of any shame, gathering facts, making them open for discussion, making choices about your attitude and any steps to be taken. It seems unfair that the person who does the most work is not the cause of the trouble. But it is an important way to experience much-needed influence on the situation. There is a rule of thumb in any difficult work situation: those who deal with it feel better than those who try to ignore the matter or leave it to others. You are never powerless or alone. It is important to continue to see yourself as the capable, mature person that you are. You remain your valuable self, even if you are in a bad situation. Also let off steam: through distraction through nature walks, or a forum of like-minded people where you share your story. You can also find support and help in the professional circuit, for example through social work or a psychologist. In short: there is always something you can do.


The stories of plague veterans are hopeful: it can be a difficult process, but a plague affair can have unexpected fruits. For example, a job that you left with a heavy heart due to bullying can lead to the flourishing career as an independent entrepreneur that you have always wanted to start. Overcoming a difficult situation can mean valuable personal growth. Your life can ultimately be enriched by facing and accepting personal vulnerabilities and learning to stand behind yourself. You may form new friendships with people who have also experienced it. And so forth. Take courage: a person is usually stronger, more resilient and more resourceful than she or he thinks. Take advantage of that.