Workplace Bullying: The Cruel Cycle


As we have defined in previous posts, workplace bullying is a repeated offense. Often victims of workplace bullying are sucked into a vicious cycle of being abused again and again. A new study revealed the more stressed and anxious a victim is, the likelihood of him or her becoming a target of abuse increases. This constant state of abuse can result in severe effects ranging from depression to burnout.


Psychological scientists Alfredo Rodríguez-Muñoz, Bernardo Moreno-Jiménez, and Ana Isabel Sanz-Vergel, found that workplace bullying not only affects an employee’s well-being and performance but leaves the employee more vulnerable to further victimization.


What these psychological scientists hypothesized was that workplace bullying would put a massive strain on an employee and drain them of their mental resources. By exerting all their mental energy to deal with abuse, the victim would succumb to a more defenseless position. Thus they would be less likely to stand up against their abuser.


Not only that but the same psychological strain may affect a worker’s job performance negatively. A poor work performance may result in less support from co-workers and supervisors and less social interaction. As an employee is consumed by this cruel and constant cycle of abuse, their perception of the workplace will become increasingly negative.


To test out their hypothesis, Rodríguez-Muñoz and colleagues interviewed 350 full-time employees over the phone. Participants were asked to share their workplace bullying experiences in the past six months and how often they experience symptoms of anxiety and depression.


Six months after the initial interviews, the same participants were revisited. As hypothesized beforehand, victims of bullying had a more negative perception of their work environment and exhibited increased anxiety symptoms.


However, researchers concluded that bullying was not able to predict whether or not a participant would suffer from depression. Researchers speculate that symptoms of depression would take longer than six months to become evident. Previous research suggests that symptoms of anxiety are frequently a precursor to the start of depression.


With the knowledge that the researchers gained from this study, it was concluded that a negative loop in workplace bullying exists. Due to these findings, Psychological scientists urge organizations to not only take steps to prevent workplace bullying but to provide victims with the proper resources to cope. Organizations that intervene with strategies that help to build self-efficacy and social support may help reduce workplace bullying victimization.