January 12, 2022

Workplace bullying takes an emotional, physical toll; support is in place to help

Behavioral health graphic Resources mentioned in this news story support the behavior health pillar of the Healthy Boiler Program.

It’s a well-known fact that bullies are everywhere, unfortunately. News and social media show and detail instances of kids being bullied at school, on the playground and online via cyber bullying at an alarming rate. However, adults also fall victim to bullies – especially at the workplace.

As defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is:

  • Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done.
  • Verbal abuse.

There’s a national prevalence of workplace bullying. According to the 2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, conducted in January 2021, 30 percent of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work; another 19 percent have witnessed it; 49 percent are affected by it; and 66 percent are aware that workplace bullying happens. Additional key findings from the survey include:

  • An estimated 48.6 million Americans are bullied at work.
  • Bullying during remote work happens most in virtual meetings, not email. 
  • For those doing remote work, 43.2 percent is the bullying rate; virtual work poses greater danger.
  • Prevalence of bullying (30 percent have direct experience being bullied) is up 57 percent from 2017.
  • Those bullied: 52 percent non-management employees and 40 percent managers.
  • Women bullies bully women at twice the rate they bully men.

It’s important to note that bullying isn’t always physical. According to the WBI, workplace bullying is driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individuals and is a set of acts of commission (doing things to others) or omission (withholding resources from others). However, when practices in the workplace don’t seem fair, it doesn’t necessarily mean an individual is being bullied. However, if an individual has a concern or believe they or someone they work with is being bullied, asking for help is encouraged.

“Every individual who has been a target of a bully or bullies has unique, individual experiences specific to their situation,” says Amy Boyle, senior director in Human Resources. “When appropriate, we recommend an employee utilize the chain of command in their area to address the situation, but we realize that’s not always possible. And depending on the circumstances – for instance, if a supervisor/manager is the one demonstrating behaviors of a bully – Human Resources Business Partners can assist employees and work to help them by providing resources, options and alternatives or navigating what next steps they’d like to make.”

It’s important to remember that workplace bullying, just like other forms of bullying, isn’t to be taken lightly. Exposure to bullying can harm a person’s health and well-being, both physically and emotionally throughout the whole body. For example, WBI states that stress-related diseases and health complications from prolonged exposure to the stressors of bullying include:

  • Anxiety.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome.
  • Fibromyalgia.
  • Irritable bowel disease.
  • Hypertension.
  • Neurological structural changes to create the “stressed brain.”
  • Panic attacks.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Skin disorders.

Details are available on the WBI webpage Bullying as Stressor, Distress, Stress-Related Diseases. For more information on how stress affects the whole body, see the Healthy Boiler Newsletter article “Stress effects – the whole body suffers.”


Purdue provides support to its employees on all campuses via a variety of means. Resources are available as follows: 

West Lafayette

Hammond and Westville campuses – Purdue Northwest

  • New Avenues, EAP provider for Purdue Northwest employees.
  • Tim Griffin, associate director of Employee Relations, timothyg@pnw.edu or 219-989-2893

Fort Wayne campus

  • Bowen Center, EAP provider for Purdue Fort Wayne employees
  • Ken Christmon, university ombudsperson, christmk@pfw.edu or 260-481-6147
  • Melissa Helmsing, associate director of Human Resources, helmsinm@pfw.edu or 260-481-5720
  • Christine Marcuccilli, associate director of compliance and director of Office of Institutional Equity, marcuccc@pfw.edu or 260-481-6107

Purdue strives to make its campus a friendly and productive workplace, and the HR Business Partners and OIE work on behalf of employees to help ensure positive working relationships campuswide. Those who feel like they or someone they work with is a target of workplace bullying are encouraged to use the resources shared above to begin to address the issue.


The behavioral health pillar of the Healthy Boiler Program advocates for integrated care programs that focus on behavioral health and community support. The resources above and below align with that mission. 

Faculty and staff resources

Review the “Mental Health Resources” webpage for a variety of available resources for faculty and staff, including EAP resources for all Purdue campuses, information on Purdue’s health plan coverage for mental health and substance abuse as well as behavioral health referral locations for the West Lafayette, Fort Wayne and Northwest campuses. 

To assist students

Faculty and staff who work with students or have a student at home can direct students to the resources below for behavioral health assistance. Note: LiveHealth Online Psychology and LiveHealth Online Psychiatry services are also available to Purdue students who are covered on a Purdue health plan. Mental health visits through LiveHealth Online are covered at 100 percent on the Purdue student health plan.   

Office of the Dean of Students

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

Faculty-Staff News

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