How to Tell if You're a Victim of Workplace Bullying

Workplace harassment today tends to go unnoticed. That's because it's become more subtle. Do you know how to recognize if you're being bullied? Find out here.
How to Tell if You're a Victim of Workplace Bullying
Sergio De Dios González

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Sergio De Dios González.

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 07 February, 2023

Workplace harassment, or mobbing, happens far more frequently than it should. One of the most complex aspects of this situation is how difficult it is to detect. That’s because the aggressors also tend to be skillful manipulators and possess good social skills.

Today, workplace bullying is prohibited virtually worldwide. For this reason, those who exercise it have refined their tactics to make it less noticeable. In fact, it’s relatively easy to camouflage behind less obvious attitudes, such as perfectionism or strictness.

The most concerning fact is that many of the victims of workplace bullying aren’t aware that they’re being bullied. In some cases, they even go so far as to normalize mistreatment or discriminatory or exclusionary behaviors. So, let’s look at some signs that suggest you might be a victim of workplace bullying. 

Whatever freedom we fight for, it must be a freedom based on equality .”

-Judith Butler-

1. Unequal treatment

Unequal treatment doesn’t necessarily refer to a greater or lesser closeness in a relationship in the workplace. It concerns the fact that, under similar circumstances, the response must also always be similar.

For example, if a colleague makes a mistake and, in the face of it, they simply receive a friendly remark, the same attitude should be applied to everyone. Greater demand, severity, or indifference is a sign of unequal treatment.

Boss doing mobbing

2. Aggressive language

Aggressive language doesn’t always follow the prototypical path. Sometimes, it may even adopt the tone of professional advice ‘for your own good’.

If you do something wrong, your mistake should be pointed out, but your motivations or traits shouldn’t be questioned. In fact, any reference to you and not your work is aggressive and can be interpreted as workplace harassment.

3. Defamation

In this case, there are also often subtleties that are overlooked. Comments or criticisms should be directed at you and only you. There’s no need for them to be spread publicly.

Nor is it appropriate for anyone to refer in public to any of your negative traits, or to use you as an example. All of this should be discussed in private with you.

4. Explicit or covert pressure

Pressure occurs when demands are made that you find it impossible to fully meet. For instance, you’re given little time to finish a task or obtain a result. Or, you’re set unrealistic goals. It also occurs when you’re overloaded with work or you’re held responsible for something that’s not within your remit. These are all cases of workplace harassment.

5. Limitation of progress

This is one of the most difficult signs of workplace bullying to detect because the limits of progress are often really vague. One indication could be the fact that the bully systematically rejects your ideas and proposals. Also, that others in the workplace have opportunities that you don’t, for no apparent reason. For example, a job in which you never advance, even if there are no objections to your performance, could be a sign of bullying.

6. Threats

Threats in the workplace are rarely direct, although they can be. However, they’re usually of the veiled kind.

It’s one thing to point out that a failure in a specific area could have negative consequences for you. It’s quite another to issue serious warnings, without specifying under what conditions or under what circumstances they’d be negative.

7. Concealment of information

This occurs when others deliberately fail to provide you with information that’s crucial to you completing your job properly. Likewise, when they don’t deliver it to you on time, thus hindering your work. If there’s no specific reason for non-delivery or delay, it’s most likely workplace bullying.

8. Ridicule

The close relatives of ridicule are satire, irony, and innuendo. In all cases, language is used in a tone of mockery, or sarcasm, to demean your work or your person.

Communication at work should always be professional. If others are going to ask something of you, they should do so clearly and directly.

9. Widespread dissatisfaction with your performance

This occurs when, no matter how well you work or how committed you are, it’s never enough to satisfy your boss. It also happens when your performance is good, but you’re rarely recognized, only when you make a mistake. This is workplace harassment, not high demand.

Bored woman at work

Finally, it’s extremely important that you’re aware of the signs of workplace bullying, especially those that are difficult to detect. Remember, you have rights and you should know how to speak about them in a calm and intelligent manner if others want to talk with you about them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Camacho-Ramírez, A. (2018). Acoso laboral o mobbing. Editorial Universidad del Rosario.
  • Fuentes Rodríguez, C., & Alcaide Lara, E. R. (2009). Manifestaciones textuales de la descortesía y agresividad verbal en diversos ámbitos comunicativos. Universidad internacional de Andalucía.
  • Padial Ortiz, O., & Iglesia Mari, M. D. L. (2002). El mobbing como enfermedad del trabajo.
  • Pereyra, F. (2013). El acceso desigual a los derechos laborales en el servicio doméstico argentino: una aproximación desde la óptica de las empleadoras. Revista de Estudios Sociales, (45), 54-66.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.