The indirect effects of workplace bullying on the work environment and other employees.

Bullying is an issue that not only affects the individual being bullied. It also affects the manager dealing with the issue and the entire staff team/work place. There is a likelihood that individuals who bully may have done so to more than one person. Witnessing the bullying of others also creates a bad atmosphere around the office.

In our last article we looked at how bullying affects the individual employee. Here in this post for managers, we will talk about the effect bullying has on the broader team and their ability to function in the workplace. Incidents of bullying cannot be viewed as isolated phenomenon. They are intertwined within the group or organisational dynamic and as they emerge they impact on the same. The bullying and reactions to it are comprised of social processes that impact individuals and the group.

In this post we be exploring the numerous ways bullying happening in an organisation can affect the whole organisation.

Effects on bystanders:

Bullying frequently occurs in the presence bystanders or witnesses. Research indicates that bullying can have significant adverse effects on these bystanders. Bystanders can report feelings of anxiety and insecurity; possibly stemming from fears of retaliation which often prevents bystanders from speaking out. Witnessing bullying, harassment or victimisation is likely to affect the morale and motivation of everyone. If it impacts one person, it can impact the whole team and “if it happened to them, maybe it can happen to me”. A lowering of motivation in turn will impact productivity. This may take hold of employees even if they are not the victims of the bullying.

Those that witness bullying may feel insecure themselves in the work environment or unable to speak out. It has been shown that most people who feel they are in an unhelpful or hostile work environment prefer to work alone rather than in teams. If people don’t trust or respect the leadership, then they don’t trust the mechanisms that are in place to keep them safe. Where bullying occurs openly people won’t trust the HR department and may even consider leaving their job for something safer.

Bullied or bullying colleagues may bring an increased workload onto other colleagues:

A person who is bullied may be unfairly labelled as someone who is cranky, moody, has ‘no sense of humour’ and is ‘a bit emotional’. Immediately, the relationship between other team members and someone suffering bullying can be affected. Persons who are bullied may feel like everyone is on their back when it is only the few. Moreover, some bullying can be so subtle we might not even be aware it’s happening to our colleague. Someone who is bullied may spend their time thinking about how not to be bullied any further or being defensive. They may be anxious, distressed or distracted. They may not be able to work or complete their roles, they may go out sick a lot which puts a strain on the rest of the team. All of this will have an impact on the rest of the team feeling happy in work.

On the other hand, the bully themselves may be bullying as a way of avoiding their own responsibility. They may feel insecure, out of their depth or anxious about work. Therefore, they may discharge this anxiety onto someone or something else. Ever heard the expression: “a bad tradesman blames his tools”? Well the same can apply for blaming colleagues. This can deflect from their own deficiencies and make it seem like they are impervious to criticism. At the heart of the bully can be deep insecurities. Helping them to address their own faults can help the rest of the team function.

A toxic environment in which to work?

In unhealthy work environments that allow subtle bullying to occur, the problem can be inherent in the work culture. If intimidation or harassment becomes part of the culture, it sets a dangerous precedent. Junior staff may mimic the behaviour of senior staff. This type of culture is driven by fear, which means that people can never relax in their work environment. They will always be scared to make a mistake or even just to ask a question for fear of being victimised. People will only do what they must and won’t be creative. In terms of providing customer service, it’s difficult to be a happy voice on the other end of the line when there’s a black cloud hanging over their desk. A negative culture where people don’t care about anything other than avoiding attack and getting through the day has little chance of translating into productivity.

Tom Mujec the business writer has an interesting perspective on this and has conducted an illuminating experiment multiple times. In the experiment he gets groups of CEOs, Solicitors and MBA graduates to attempt to build without instructions a tower of dried spaghetti, tape, string and marshmallow. They are timed and the group to build the highest tower wins. Normally the group with the highest tower is the CEOs, followed in order by the Solicitors and then the MBAs. However, he also gets a fourth group to take the challenge: pre-school age children. Time and time again the pre-school age children outscore the other groups! Why? Because they experiment time and time again, aren’t afraid of getting it wrong, don’t have a reputation to uphold and there is no one judging them for how they perform. Therefore, they achieve better results!

Knock on effects for the management

Believe it or not the owners/management are part of the team too. More stress and headaches for them can have a knock on effect on the rest of the team. With bullying going on in the work place they may find that in some cases staff may not want to report a case of bullying, they may simply choose to leave. The financial and time cost of finding someone to replace them and train them up can be expensive. On the other side of the coin, if someone is found to be at fault, the business could then be embroiled in lengthy, stressful and expensive dismissal procedures.

Industry wise an out of control bully or a toxic environment can damage the company’s reputation leading to more pressure piled on. An industry reputation is created by what employees have to say about working in an organisation. Bullying reflects ineffective management structures. A business with a reputation for bullying won’t attract quality employees because people will not want to work in such an environment.

It doesn’t end there. If the culture of harassment spills over into supplier relationships, then other companies may question if they want to work with the business. In the end, the ability to serve the customers will suffer, and this will be reflected on in the bottom line and stress for the owners/managers.


All of the above show how allowing any form of harassment, bullying or victimization within an organisation can be very detrimental for all the people working there and indeed for business. Even if it is seemingly a minor incident, it still has the potential to impact the business in a very real way. Don’t wait until it is too late to look at installing/updating anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies. If possible, get employees comfortable with saying how they feel and listen to them.

At Abate Counselling and EAP Ltd. we provide staff support solutions to companies whose employees need support. We provide counselling/psychoeducation for victims, bystanders and perpetrators of bullying.

We also provide counselling for any of life’s concerns. We also do group interventions/debriefings within teams around toxic work environments/practices. The simple act of providing up to six counselling sessions for an employee can ensure their retention, help them get back to work, increase their performance and ultimately foster a stronger work environment that can filter out into the team and the workplace culture.

We would be delighted to talk to anyone who wanted to discuss how counselling or group interventions can support employees to better function in their jobs.

Many thanks for reading, please share, like and comment!

A company’s greatest asset is its employees, we’re the insurance.

Team Abate Counselling
1800 222 833