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Workplace Bullying

Bullying behavior at work is gaining increased attention across the country. Some states are proposing legislation to lend guidance on this topic and take a firm stance on the unacceptable behavior of bullying. Johns Hopkins has defined workplace bullying as repeated mistreatment of a person that may result in harm to one’s health and that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors that are threatening, intimidating or humiliating; or interference that prevents work from getting done.

Safe at Hopkins understands that bullying can happen at all levels of the organization and is not limited to those who work within a hierarchical chain of command. While it is common to think of bosses as bullies, quite often that is not the case. Safe at Hopkins uses a research-informed approach to explain the difference between a tough boss and a bully boss.

Bullying can happen in any relationship; it can be lateral, or it can occur across work areas, meaning someone from a department who needs to consistently interact with someone from another department can be a bully or be the recipient of bullying behaviors; this is the type of bullying most often reported to Safe at Hopkins.

Bullying typically refers to targeted mistreatment of another person; the recipient of bullying is thought of as a singular, repeated target. While that is a typical circumstance of bullying, workplace bullying can also take the form of impacting a number of people through a dominant bullying style. Or, can alternatively be several people using a dominant bullying style to mistreat another.

Workplace bullying takes many shapes and forms. Safe as Hopkins is prepared to address and better understand all reports of bullying in the work environment and academic setting. 

Johns Hopkins Continuum of Disruptive Behaviors at Work

The Continuum of Disruptive Behaviors at Work includes nine categories of concerning behavior. Behaviors on the left side of the continuum should be considered within the context of the work/academic environment. If you are concerned about behaviors that might escalate into violence, talk with your supervisor, human resources/labor relations, or your academic advisor or chair. Share with him or her the events you observed and how they impacted your job or academic responsibilities. It may be important to note patterns and frequencies of behaviors.

Behaviors of Concern Begin
Early Identification of Safety Concerns
Higher Risk for Workplace Violence, Despair, Suicide
Behaviors of Concern

Inappropriate Behaviors

Inappropriate behavior is often seen as the way a person “broadcasts” him or herself. When inappropriate behavior is not managed, one may push the limits and become disruptive. Some specific actions include: making rude, loud, and off-colored remarks, telling degrading jokes, and swearing in public.

Behaviors of Concern

Disrespectful Behavior

Disrespectful behavior is more hostile than inappropriate behavior and is usually aimed directly at another person. Some specific actions include: criticizing or dismissing achievements, degrading others, and shouting.

Early Identification of Safety Concern

Mild Bullying

Johns Hopkins has defined workplace bullying as repeated mistreatment of a person that may result in harm to one’s health and that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors that are threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; or interference that prevents work from getting done.

Mild bullying includes the behaviors defined above which are aimed directly at another person. Some specific actions are denying access to necessary information, creating isolation, and giving the silent treatment.

Early Identification of Safety Concern

Moderate to Severe Bullying

Johns Hopkins has defined workplace bullying as repeated mistreatment of a person that may result in harm to one’s health and that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors that are threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; or interference that prevents work from getting done.

Moderate to severe bullying includes the behaviors of mild bullying with increased frequency and personalization of mistreatment. Some specific actions are starting gossip campaigns about a person’s character, falsely accusing someone of errors, imposing impossible deadlines, and retaliating for perceived wrongs.

High Risk Behaviors

Stalking

Stalking involves individuals who harass, follow, or give unwanted attention and gifts. Specific actions include: a pattern of repeated unwanted, intrusive, and frightening communication by phone, email, text, or social media.

High Risk Behaviors

Domestic/Intimate Partner Violence

Domestic/intimate partner violence occurs when one partner uses physical violence, intimidation, threats, or emotional, sexual, or economic abuse to control the other partner.  Because the controlling partner can easily locate the victim at work, domestic violence can create a workplace safety concern.

High Risk Behaviors

Stated Threats

Stated threats express an emotional, sexual, psychological, or economic message of future danger. Specific actions include: a direct threat – I’m going to kill you; an indirect threat – I’m going to make sure that you get what you deserve; or a conditional threat – If he fires me, I will kill him.

High Risk Behaviors

Physical Violence

Violence is any action that threatens the safety of employees, residents, students, or patients; impacts their physical or psychological well-being; or causes damage to the institutions’ property.

High Risk Behaviors

Serious Injury and Harm

Serious injury and harm can involve the use of weapons, necessary medical attention, and homicide.

Carlstrom, M., Meadowcroft, K. & Rammacca, J. (2013) Johns Hopkins University and Health System. All rights reserved.

Brochures depicting the continuum and information about preventing disruptive behaviors at work from escalating are available for download or in hard copy.

General Awareness Brochure for EmployeesBrochure for Leaders

Development of the Continuum and Actions Associated with Behaviors

Informed by workplace bullying research, Safe at Hopkins examined risk-oriented conduct seen in previous Johns Hopkins workplace violence cases to catalog and define precipitating behaviors across a spectrum. This work led to the Johns Hopkins Continuum of Disruptive Behaviors at Work which anchors the early intervention work of Safe at Hopkins. Lists of specific actions for each category of behavior emerged as part of ongoing research on disruptive behaviors at work. Awareness of these specific actions, or definitions, brings consistency to understanding and discussing the categories on the continuum.