Workplace bullying is a serious and insidious problem that is not only harmful to the targeted workers but also destructive for the team and the company as a whole. Bullying may be inflicted by practically anyone—co-workers, a group of co-workers and superiors, and can take many different forms, from obscure manipulating to open aggression. Our resources can help make all workers aware of, gain mental control over, and prepare to cope with workplace bullying.
This material covers various themes: mocking; belittling; berating; yelling; verbal abuse; physical threats; breaking privacy and pestering; spreading rumors; overloading with work; cutting off guidelines, information, responsibilities, and tasks; making unachievable demands; blocking leave, training and promotion; blame games; marginalization; mob ostracism; violence. Some animations portray problematic workers and their intrigues against others, some show organizational causes of bullying, but in the end, there is some positivity in them too.
Each issue listed has a separate animated illustration, but you can also find various other undesirable behaviors scattered throughout the other animations. The clips illustrating symptoms can also be combined to form a longer story, depending on your experience and imagination. It is believed that to label an incident as workplace bullying, it must be a repeated, unreasonable act intended to cause distress or harm to somebody.
Watch little stories about work and take time to reflect on their message. Try to understand them and draw conclusions. We suggest some interpretations, but you can work out different answers based on your knowledge and personal experiences.
Have you encountered similar behavior or a similar situation? Have you heard of situations like these? What would you do in such a situation? Let’s think about these questions and discuss them with workmates or friends.
"Everyday hardship. People don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses."
Even if they are competent, difficult co-workers can spoil well-established relationships and put an unneeded burden on every day at work. High-conflict people and those with a tendency to bully can make every day of cooperation difficult or unbearable even in the absence of especially stressful and difficult internal events at work. Expressing discontent ostentatiously, provocative behaviour, aggressive feedback and distorted appraisals, deliberate abuse of power, maliciously tightening the screw on workers to step by step create a noxious atmosphere at work. Hence, research has shown that a typical reason for deep dissatisfaction at work, often resulting in quitting their jobs, is a toxic superior. In both a quiet and dynamic environment with ongoing issues, differences of opinions and simple blunders are natural occurrences. That’s why it is vital to establish means of achieving effective communication and dialogue, and common rules to define and curb the frayed relationships between employees.
“Jerk, slacker and depressive. A satirical view of three common types of problematic workers.”
This movie humorously presents three frequently encountered types of characters that are a nightmare for companies. These three types of workers can undermine the workplace: they can spoil relationships and disrupt the fulfillment of duties. In the case of a slacker or a jerk, the problem seems to be clear, but the depressive illustration is not so obvious and can cause controversy. Admittedly, depressed people may show a drop-in functioning, but they need to be treated carefully because they might need more help and support. Moreover, in the case of bullying, we could be dealing with a vicious circle—the subject of bullying becomes depressed, weaker, and might expose themselves to further trouble.
“Watch your step. A crafty intriguer.”
Although serious in the real world, this is portrayed with a grain of salt. A newcomer is politely welcomed into the office. Yet, what starts with laughter ends in tears as he falls into a trap made by one of his crafty colleges. Whether it is a bad joke to show the newbie how it feels to work there or being overloaded with accumulated issues from the start, such onboarding does not instill good memories.
“Belittling a person's opinions.”
A very short episode portraying someone putting down a worker and showing contempt for someone else’s effort. This illustration shows a one-off situation face-to-face, but this is often one in a series of unfavorable and hostile behaviors in various contexts that you can find in many little stories about work.
“Constantly changing work guidelines.”
It is not surprising that constantly changing plans and guidelines can handicap how smoothly duties are fulfilled or make everyday work impossible. A chaotic boss or colleague is always a nuisance, but this time it is done intentionally, though not openly or directly. By acting in this way, such people show disrespect for someone’s efforts or completely waste their hard work and potential. At best, such games with workers can confuse them and destroy their morale.
“Assigning unreasonable demands."
Another example of undesirable behavior is assigning unreasonable duties or workload that are unfavorable to one person and create unnecessary pressure. This clip tells a story about intentional action to oppress a selected worker disliked by a manager, while other workers are treated equally and fairly.
“The tricky game. Establishing impossible deadlines and a workload that sets someone up to fail.”
Deliberate actions to set up a worker for failure and incompetence, which can happen under the guise of assigning tasks and responsibilities. Preoccupied with his work or unaware of consequences, the worker tries to do his best to fulfil his role but falls into a trap. If a real workload is obscured or justified on the surface by “busy time” and the company’s urgent needs, colleagues can perceive the ineffectiveness and failure as a lack of skills and motivation. Other threads about setting workers up to fail by not providing guidance, advice, training, or a proper environment to help them succeed are shown in other little stories about work.
“Tampering with a person's personal belongings or work equipment.”
Tampering with personal belongings, equipment, and documents in the absence of their owners, the unauthorized gathering of sensitive information, and seeking uncomfortable anecdotes—these types of wrongful behavior can be elements of bullying. It shows a lack of respect for someone’s privacy and intellectual property. The enemy is intent on sabotaging someone’s work or harming them as a person. One related story commonly seen in the workplace is stealing other people’s ideas and work to present them as one’s own.
“An intrusive colleague—pestering, spying, or stalking.”
When someone is meddlesome, overly suspicious, or obsessed with finding something on a colleague, it creates a situation that can be disturbing and harmful, like any other form of persecution. Disrespect for someone’s privacy and suspiciousness can even lead to a pseudo-investigation. Uncomfortable facts, awkward news, weak and vulnerable points—all can be used to ridicule, compromise, or blackmail the victim.
“A bad joke. Making obviously offensive jokes.”
Classic examples are laughing at someone, making insulting remarks, offensive jokes, and labels. This is much more than the playful and teasing conversation called banter; this attack is hurtful, derogatory, and abusive to a victim. It can happen both on-site and while working from home via phone, email, and team messaging apps. What’s worse—it’s contagious.
“Bad relationship at work. Criticizing a person persistently.”
Constant criticism, picking up on trivial details, a lack of fundamental trust and ordinary aversion can create barriers to communication, negative stereotypes, and drastically spoil the relationship between supervisor and subordinate. The superior is so fierce and negative that his biases distort the employee’s assessment and appraisal. Continuous criticism of a worker may be related to micromanaging, which can turn into bullying.
“Removing areas of responsibility and taking away some tasks without good reason.”
Lower amounts of work are not always welcomed by and beneficial for employees. This is the opposite of being overloaded, but it does not mean that the worker is privileged. Unattractive jobs do not bring satisfaction, and depriving an employee of more ambitious tasks leads to missed opportunities for professional development and spoils chances for other, maybe better, positions. Underworking can also create a feeling of uselessness.
“Blocking application for promotion.”
A short story about chances for a better position being destroyed. Here we have a worker who has received a positive assessment and performance ratings, and he has been chosen for a well-deserved promotion. His co-workers agree, and they welcome the colleague’s success with enthusiasm. At a crucial moment, his adversary appears, and his underlying private antipathy or interest leads to a vile act that ruins the hero’s career. He diminishes the hero’s achievements, and his voice has a significant impact on the final decision.
“Blocking application for leave.”
Someone’s plans and dreams can be buried with one adverse decision. If there is a possibility of granting leave and a decision-maker dismissively and unpleasantly rejects an application, it can be a symptom of bullying behavior. Keep in mind that, in certain justified circumstances, a manager has the right to refuse the request, e.g., during periods when an employee is in high demand at the company.
“Blocking application for training.”
This is a sign of unfair treatment when someone deliberately—tactically or maliciously—prevents a worker from needed training and other essential resources. This decreases the worker’s effectiveness and performance appraisal and is not beneficial for the organization either. This is yet another sign of bullying—blocking career success when an employee is deliberately denied available learning opportunities for their professional development.
“Don't be like him! Yelling and verbal abuse.”
Yelling, mocking, name-calling, threats of demotion, and dismissal can happen at workplaces you would not think about. Bullies are keen to act ruthlessly and regardless of the presence of third parties in all kinds of circumstances: at the office, on the shop floor, and in the field. This animated story also shows the difficult, unpleasant, and distressful situations co-workers and clients can be placed in.
“Spiralling out of control. Uncontrolled conflict and physical threats.”
This story focuses on the relationship between a problematic worker and his neutral superior, showing that unacceptable behavior can also occur towards superiors and can involve open aggression and violence. This time, there is an argument between a superior and a subordinate who does not want to concede and becomes angry. Such a situation may be caused by ongoing business difficulties or feedback on a worker’s performance prompted by the worker not meeting the requirements of their job. Finally, the heated discussion turns into threats and even gets physical.
“A small dispute can cause a big row through the spreading of malicious rumors and imputations.”
At some companies, even a small problem can become the origin of bullying. A short cartoon on gossip culture and quarrelsome ways of approaching issues. A group of workers talks about someone continually and spreads rumors behind that person’s back, and finally, they unanimously accuse the victim. Bullying is sometimes caused by the spontaneous escalation of a small problem or tiny conflict.
“Strange coincidences and mysterious fiasco. Affairs behind the scenes.”
The parable of a mysterious fiasco outlines how actions behind the scenes lead to the collapse of someone’s initiative. Bullying often takes place out of sight and in the corridors. Every day, the workforce and processes seem to run normally, yet we can identify this issue through unexpected twists of events, surprising decisions of bosses, and colleagues’ strange reactions. Co-workers witnessing these events are not necessarily unfriendly, but they feel that something wrong is happening and are helpless, or they prefer to steer clear of the situation.
“A man lost in the company. Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.”
Information is power. Individual bullying or group blocking by a clique can take various forms: not passing on information about the company’s events and plans; cutting off access to vital guidelines about ongoing actions or deliberate misleading; lack of help and support in clarifying details and sharing resources by better-informed staff. Finally, the responsibility falls on the excluded employee, who ends up at a dead end. However, poor cooperation affects the whole company.
“Outsider—isolation, and marginalization at work.”
Isolation and marginalization at work can be on a professional or social level. Apart from ignoring someone and not assigning tasks to them within the team, it can also entail social distance and even antipathy from a group of colleagues. Single incidents, when they occur repeatedly, create a pattern of pushing someone out of the team. On the one hand, such a situation causes a feeling of alienation for the victim. On the other hand, other colleagues may start to perceive an individual as a misfit with inappropriate personal qualities and skills.
“Change for the better gone bad—one of the organizational causes of bullying.”
Introducing new ways of working is not welcomed by staff; they are not used to changes and are accustomed to old practices. The staff express dissatisfaction and resistance to this move, but responsibility for a lack of progress falls on the coordinator of the improvement. Poor communication between the levels of the organization and insufficient insight by management create a fertile ground for excuses and insinuation against the author of ‘the confusion.’ It ends in a deadlock between disappointed management, the coordinator, and hostile workers.
“Making someone feel guilty for things that are not their fault.”
A spiral of negative opinions spreads in a fast and uncontrolled manner and focuses on a marked person. We cannot tell from the information provided whether the problem is serious nor who should be blamed, but aggressive criticism and accusations cause the issue. It undercuts this person’s self-confidence, and eventually, the victim falls into self-blaming. The victim may also be upset because fair and proper clarification did not take place. If this is one in a series of unfavorable attacks, we can call it bullying.
“Well, then you are cooked! Basic instincts in a business setting.”
Basic instincts are triggered by some failure of the team, which seeks a scapegoat to close the case. A threat to the group and its members releases primal fears and instincts. From there, it is only one step towards stigmatizing and punishing the one responsible. Participants in the bashing forget about the world and become so lost, as if in a ritual trance.
“The dream of a supervisor. Ambition, compliance, and a bad attitude towards workers.”
An ambitious manager is also entangled in the chain of command and reward system. His desire to fulfill bosses’ expectations, an excessively critical attitude, and a low opinion of his team leads him to perceive workers as not engaged enough or just lazy. He undervalues their work and then reorganizes it. New increased demands are miscalculated and cause difficulties and conflicts. This movie shows that issues can stem from and are linked to all levels of an organization.
“How high can you raise the bar? Excessively heightened demands.”
Very difficult or unmanageable demands can cause stress and problems with proper, timely performance. Finally, it can end in mayhem, conflict, and accusations against one another, especially in a weakly connected and unprepared team. Sometimes, managers raise the bar to motivate and challenge workers, but miscalculated or irrational goals can lead to opposite results. At best, it creates a stressful workplace in which employees must use additional skills and energy to cope.
“Lynching at work. Mob ostracism and violence.”
Uncritical compliance with commercial values, lack of skills to control oneself and control others, and lack of ethical sensitivity make an explosive combination. Non-performance, failure, stressful situations, or crunch time can release the urge to mark someone as the weakest link and bash them in an act of herd behavior. One may think that achieving business goals is of the utmost importance and the only way to survive in a competitive world, while for others, it is just hard work to be done. The problem occurs when you cross the line and commit bullying because someone does not conform perfectly to these hard rules.
“Surprise in the cupboard.”
This is a well-known reminder of what might happen when the workplace falls into a state of neglect. Abandoned and forgotten by all. Was it bullying or karoshi? Isn’t it better to prevent such an ending rather than leaving it alone until someone uncovers the company’s secret?
“Does an employee have a choice? Does an employer have a choice?”
Work is already a treadmill, and on top of that, there is bullying! Of course, it affects both the professional and private life. Leisure time is permeated with apathy and bleakness, giving no rest or pleasure. In this case, a decent break from routine to recharge your batteries with positive energy seems to be a good solution, and then make sure you continue to do things that make you feel good. But the employer also must act proactively and refresh workplace relationships. This movie shows possible and straightforward solutions to prevent the worst consequences: when things have gone too far and the company does not provide any means to resolve tensions, workers are dismissed or seriously think about quitting their job.
“At the end, a little bit of optimism. Positive mindset and persistence.”
A quick reminder and positive story among the rather gloomy illustrations. A professional failure can happen to anyone; even a small one can cause someone to feel disheartened and can awaken unpleasant memories. Nonetheless, constructive thinking and proactive behavior protect individuals from being drained and falling into constant worry and apathy. It is good to lean on wisdom and concrete knowledge to work out solutions and patiently pursue them step by step, even if it is an uphill task.