During this difficult time of Corona virus outbreak, how can we as women cope better and support each other? Check our special feed and learn more!

How To Deal With Bullies At Office

Posted: March 27, 2012

How do working women in India tackle bullies at office who take advantage of hierarchy as well as gender? Read on!

By Nisha Salim

At the workplace, as in any social setting, a certain amount of teasing occurs naturally (and sometimes, its not teasing but workplace harassment). But when it becomes insistent and repetitive, causing severe stress to the target, it crosses over to the line of bullying.

Premilla D’Cruz and Ernesto Norohna, Organizational Behaviour professors at IIM Ahmedabad, had conducted a study on workplace bullying among the ITeS employees in India, in 2010. The findings reveal without a doubt that bullies at office are not rare. According to the survey, “A range of bullying behaviours were described including isolation, personal attacks, verbal threats and task-related difficulties.”

Premilla D’Cruz, who also authored the book Workplace Bullying in India, says that while bullies at office do exist in India, it is hard to determine the extent of it in the absence of empirical data.

Bullying is basically emotional abuse. It is a persistent, targeted kind of hostility or intimidation that one person or group shows to another person or group. It occurs with a certain frequency and makes the target feel powerless to defend himself or herself,” clarifies Premilla.

Anjana Verma*, a call centre team leader, is of the opinion that standing up to bullies at office and escalating the issue to the concerned line manager can help if the escalation procedure is robust. Anjana herself has been bullied by her own manager, which she successfully escalated to the next in line.

Bullying is basically emotional abuse. It is a persistent, targeted kind of hostility or intimidation…

Bullies at office: Boss vs. Subordinate?

Most often it is the superiors who turn out to be bullies. I have also seen it the other way round where the superior is a woman and the men in her team bully her. This however, is rare,” says Anjana.

Rishita Pandey*, a middle level manager in an MNC, opines that it is better to deal with bullies at office tactically. She states, “Usually, a straight forward confrontation is not useful. Most bullies continue their behaviour since they are used to getting a positive response. Give them a non-routine response that will throw them off a little.” Don’t let the bully know that you are afraid or intimidated by his aggression.

Premilla agrees that bullies at office can be handled effectively, “If you have a supportive top management and HR who are willing to take up the issue and fight it through.” The other option, she adds, is, “To quit or look for another job. This may not seem like the ideal solution, but mostly people have no choice but to quit unless they have a highly supportive top management.

Premilla narrates an incident where an entry level BPO employee was bullied by the team leader. The victim was given tasks that did not match his skillsets and then criticised for poor performance. The team leader also spoke poorly about the victim on the work floor within earshot of others, thus humiliating the victim. This issue was escalated to the team leader’s superior during a skip level meeting. The senior managers viewed the issue with some seriousness and appropriate action was taken.

When your line manager himself is the bully, the situation becomes complex because, “There is a lot of collusion between your superiors and other managers,” reminds Premilla. Usually, the victim is transferred to a different team where the chances of work-related bullying are minimized. Unless there is extensive evidence about bullying behaviour and complaints from other employees, there is little likelihood that bullies at office will be terminated.

Working women in India: More at risk?

Both Anjana and Rishita agree that working women in India are more susceptible to being bullied because they are generally perceived as the weaker sex.

It is really difficult to look at this through the lens of gender,” says Premilla. She elaborates, “It is hard to say whether women are more susceptible to getting bullied than men because it is context-specific and culture can play a role. In a patriarchal society, women may experience greater gender-based harassment; but they may not perceive it that way because they often take some level of unfair treatment for granted.

So far, there is no legislation to prevent workplace bullying in India. But there are internal policies in place in most companies.

How can you handle bullies at office?

Remember that bullying has more to do with the bully’s own insecurities than about what you do.

By recognizing that it is the bully that has the problem and not you, you regain control of your own feelings. Embarrassment, shame and fear are all normal reactions, but remember that these emotions are often misplaced and that is how all abusers control and silence the victims.

By recognizing that it is the bully that has the problem and not you, you regain control of your own feelings.

Record everything in a journal. Learn about your company policies regarding bullying and prepare to take action.

Have a backup plan in place. You may even want to look for another job, because when you have the security of a backup job, you feel more empowered to face the situation.

When you discuss the issue with senior management, provide ample evidence. Be prepared for the eventuality that you may have to quit.

Dealing with bullies at office can be tough. Limit the damage as early as you can, and get out of the company if they are unable to protect their employees.

*Names changed on request.

*Photo credit: Tim Caynes (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)

Nisha Salim is a self-employed writer and a social media junkie.

Learn More

बच्चा होने के बाद - Motherhood And Career - How To Plan?




  1. Good thought! Its way difficult to deal with things like this. But some strategies mentioned above can help certainly.

  2. Hi ! I need help. My office people are bullying me. They are using all sorts of tactics inside & outside office to make me leave job. They are emotionally traumatising me.
    I faced lot of bullying in my previous office, to such an extent that the employees there would resort to stalking me & harassing me & even misbehaving with me. I reported in HR but I was given a warning instead of any action being taken against such people who were verbally & physically abusing me.
    I changed my job but because of what I experienced, I could not properly perform the work that was given to me. The work given to me was also totally new to me & I got no guidance to do the same so as a result I gave up. My current boss has hated me from the day I joined this office. He would compare me to other of his workers and always give me feedback saying I am a non performer & I am not fit for the job. Now when I am able to perform since my profile has been changed, I am given so many additional jobs after saying – I do nothing whole day. He has brought other new employees who have made their own group & keep laughing at me , cursing me, the whole day they redicule me, laugh at me or indirectly say something or other about me. They don’t even let me have my lunch. If I go early they come early & then they start at lunch table also. I have been side lined, they monitor my work, hear my phone calls – repeat all this, I have been left alone , they send fraud marriage proposal & are trying to harm me in every possible way especially by harming me emotionally & breaking my confidence. My boss continuous points out that I am making shit by coming to office & not doing any work. I know these people want to seclude me so that they can again misbehave with me. I know whatever happened in my previous company & is happening in this company is because of same lot of people & Human Resources Department
    I have no hope left that all this will change ever. I believe all companies are same. They give you 10% hike even if you are good performer & if you face bullying & mobbing – they try to get rid of you by tagging you as problem employee instead of helping you out.

    • Hi om sri I think u are good at ur job & people are jealous of something u .secondly maybe u have some other problem maybe at home that prevents u from being assertive to these people.solve it one by one

    • Hi OMshri ,I Understand u r situation .I am doing My Phd on the topic workplace bullying.As I was reading u r post I Lots of Books I have read came to my mind on the topic, 1.who gets bullied. 2.How to confront bullying 3 Understanding acts of bullying .I can share more resources with you.I request you to contact me .My mail Id is pratapnavayan@gmail.com

  3. Pingback: 7 Productivity Lessons From Ants Every Working Woman Should Know

  4. Pingback: How can women handle workplace bullying? | Nischala’s Space, Thoughts, Expressions…

Share your thoughts! [Be civil. No personal attacks. Longer comment policy in our footer!]

Stay updated with our Weekly Newsletter or Daily Summary - or both!

Are You A Woman Working In India Inc?