It is not obvious for a victim of workplace bullying to be aware of it . Acknowledging, accepting and assuming one’s own situation usually takes some time, mainly for two reasons.

The first is the lack of information about the problem. In Spain and Europe, harassment at work is relatively unknown in all its dimensions and implications compared to, for example, other similar forms of violence such as sexual harassment.

The second is your course. At first, the harassment may go unnoticed, since the aggression normally begins sporadically and at a low intensity, and increases progressively. When the worker notices that the situation is untenable, it is already difficult to stop it.

That is why it is important to know how to recognize it in its initial stages . To do so, the best thing is to understand on the one hand its course and the strategies carried out by the aggressor and, on the other hand, to identify its consequences.

How to identify harassment in the workplace

We’re going to focus on the bully’s aggressive behaviors at each stage.

First phase

The beginning of the harassment may be preceded by a conflict or, on the contrary, may begin without an apparent reason. In this second case, the aggressor will cautiously “rehearse” the behaviors of aggression. A reprimand in public, some derogatory, indirect comments , a joke in public, sowing a rumour, etc.

He acts in a subtle way, always looking for an excuse in case he is unmasked (“It was all a joke!”, “I am like that”, etc.). If the aggressor perceives that the conduct has gone unpunished or that some of his companions have laughed at him, he will gradually increase the frequency or intensity of the humiliation while trying new methods to cause additional damage.

Also it is possible that this phase has as origin a conflict a particular situation . A conflict that the organization does not resolve and that the aggressor will use as a recurrent excuse to justify his behavior.

If the aggressor is a superior, complaints about the work will also be frequent, the imposition of impossible tasks (so that the worker cannot fulfill them and thus have a perfect excuse to continue with the criticism) or, on the contrary, of tasks that are not in accordance with the worker’s training: asking him to prepare a coffee, to make photocopies, etc.

These micro-aggressions will gradually, day by day, undermine the victim’s morale. In fact, in France, mobbing is called “moral harassment” because it aims at precisely that; demoralizing the victim.

Second phase

In a second phase, the aggressor will deploy a heterogeneous repertoire of behaviours depending on his evil, power, capacities, implicit or explicit support from the witnesses and the tolerance he perceives in the organisation itself.

Obviously, there are a lot of aggressive behaviors. Some of them would be to threaten, insult, criticize, discredit, harass, ignore, annoy, defame, ridicule, make the task difficult, silence, etc. Studies suggest that this wide range of destructive behaviours responds to four types of strategies:

1. Intimidation

This would include behaviours such as verbal threats, looks of contempt, shouting, whispering in his presence, provoking emotional reactions in the victim , etc.

2. Victim isolation

Preventing the victim from talking to colleagues, not letting her express herself or interrupting her when she talks, leaving her without a phone or computer, placing her in a secondary or marginal location, not passing on important calls, withholding relevant information, etc.

3. Work and personal disrepute

To spread rumours, to minimize her efforts and achievements, to hide her skills and competences , to comment on her mistakes in public, to criticize her (let’s remember that previously she will have been burdened with unrealizable work or will have been “tricked” into failing, etc). In addition to the professional discredit, the victim will be tried to discredit her personally.

You will look for personality traits that explain your abnormal behavior (when the possible abnormal behavior has a lot to do with the situation you are going through). This strategy is important because it will eventually lead to the expulsion of the worker under the pretext that he was not efficient or that he had a disorder.

4. Preventing career progression

Not providing feedback or giving bad evaluations. Not assigning you interesting projects or, on the contrary, assigning you tasks that are not in line with your experience or training , not proposing you for promotions, hindering your development, etc.

One of the main characteristics of this type of violence is its continuity over time. The worker can endure this abuse for years. Obviously, this prolongation in time has destructive consequences for the mental and physical health of the worker. At some point, the worker or company tries to tackle the situation, which brings us to the resolution phase.

Third phase

At this stage, worker and company try to find a solution to the problem. Sometimes companies try to mediate between aggressor and victim either through the personnel department, trade unions or by using professional mediation services. Mediation in this type of problems is usually not an adequate resource from the victim’s point of view .

On the one hand, because when the company uses these services, the mediator himself tends to be conditioned to adopt a solution, which is usually a drastic one (remember that the company wants to get rid of the problem as soon as possible). The situation of strong psychosocial deterioration of the worker can end up convincing the mediator that the best option would be the exit of the worker himself.

Another alternative is to open an “internal investigation” which, in the best of cases, may result in the worker being moved to another job, although it often happens that this worker already carries with him that “stigma” which may hinder his fit in the new location.

It is common for the worker to voluntarily request this change of job although this desire is rarely satisfied. In private companies, the aggravating factor is that a worker with several years of experience does not want to leave and renounce the compensation. This leads him to go through an ordeal that brings with it an aggravation of the consequences on his health.

In this phase, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress symptoms are common, and other types of extra-occupational social problems (break-ups with partners, separation from friends, etc.) are generated, which put the worker in an extremely vulnerable situation and usually end with dismissal.


If you recognize yourself as a worker in any of these or in the type of strategies and maneuvers that we have described, it is likely that you are suffering from mobbing. In that case, it is best to ask for professional advice and help to try to get out of the situation. Trying to do this on your own can be a daunting task with little chance of success. The help you need should be both psychological and legal.