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Bullies Don't Just Happen to Kids

Updated: May 12, 2019

Author: Sandra L Macke-Piper, MSC | CPA| PLPC

In light of the recent publication of the 2018 Hiscox Workplace Harrassment Study (, a blog I posted last year seems worth re-posting.

A study about bullying out of the University of Illinois defines it as distinct from other types of aggressive behavior. Bullying occurs in the context of a relationship, in which there is an imbalance of power between two people and the abuse occurs over time (Rodkin, Espelage, & Hannish, 2015). Swearer & Hymel (2015) describe it as a “complex form of interpersonal aggression” and talk about bullying as a “stressful life event” for the both the bully and their victim. It is also a “group phenomenon, occurring in a social context in which various factors serve to promote, maintain, or suppress such behavior”. In other words, the culture in which the bullying occurs can . . .

  • - actively promote it

  • - passively permit the existence of it

  • - or actively throw cold water on the behavior.

Most studies about bullying reference children in school settings but the phenomenon is not confined to childhood. It can and does happen to adults in places where they work. Generally, it occurs in situations where unequal power exists and is arguably more stressful for the recipient than the perpetrator.

Sadly, adults are no better equipped to address it than their childhood counterparts. Perhaps less so. Because as adults, we believe somehow the bully is someone with whom we can successfully reason. Many times, those surrounding the target of the bully, fail to see how difficult it is for the victim. There is a tendency by people, who are not the direct target of the bullying, to mentally minimize the damaging effects on those at the receiving end. They may have a relationship with the bully and have difficulty understanding that a person, with whom they may get along, is abusive to someone else.

If another person in the organization, has previously been the target of the bully and they were able to get the bad behavior to stop, that person may operate under the assumption that if the victim would only do som