Bullying in the workplace is one way of pressuring others, usually subordinates, to take responsibility for work or to meet deadlines. Bullying may be used as a last resort by anyone under stress at work, but for some it is the only effective technique for motivating others, and it may become habitual. Bullying contributes to worker dissatisfaction and absenteeism. It is widely acknowledged as undesirable both by organizations and by the bullies themselves, who may admit they use this method because they are unskilled in other ways of staff management. Companies and organizations have tended to not deal with the problem directly; instead of retraining or removing the bully, they rather take the easier route of transferring complaining staff to other departments or allowing them to leave the organization.
Bullying differs from harassment and assault in that the latter can result from a single incident or small number of incidents – which everybody recognises as harassment or assault – whereas bullying tends to be an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Each incident tends to be trivial, and on its own, out of context, does not constitute an offence or grounds for disciplinary or grievance action.
Nine out of ten calls made to the UK National Workplace Bullying Advice Line involve office-based workers. The public sector accounts for more than half of the calls, with one in five complainants working in the social services.
A 2018 study, which took place at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, found that individuals who are victims of workplace bullying, violence, or threats of violence may be at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and having a stroke. Among people who experienced workplace bullying nearly every day over the course of the previous year, the risk of heart disease increased by 120 percent versus those who had not been bullied. And among the participants subjected to violence or threats of violence, those who dealt with it nearly daily were found to have a 36 percent greater risk of stroke compared to people who felt safer on the job.