Posted on: 21-02-2020

Bullying in the workplace

Written by:

Hein Kernkamp

What is bullying in the workplace?

Bullying occurs when behavior is intimidating and repeats itself. It is about harmful, targeted behavior that takes place at work. It can be hateful, offensive, mocking or intimidating. It forms a pattern and is usually aimed at one person or at a number of people who are unable to defend themselves in the circumstances. Not really nice.

Some examples of bullying are:

  • making jokes at the expense of another
  • making annoying comments
  • making insults
  • overly harsh or unjustified criticism
  • ignoring or social isolation
  • intentionally providing incorrect or incomplete information
  • assigning meaningless tasks
  • criticizing in public
  • threats, humiliation and other verbal abuse

Who are the bullies?

Everyone can bully. It may be the boss who is bullying, a direct colleague or a subordinate.
Not all that is experienced as annoying is bullying. For example, when a manager expresses criticism or evaluates the bad performance of an employee, this is not regarded as bullying. Objective and constructive criticism and disciplinary measures that are directly related to workplace behavior or work performance are not considered bullying. But criticism intended to intimidate or humiliate someone for no reason is considered bullying.

Because bullying often happens verbally and has an effect on emotional level, it may not always be visible to others. But unfortunately it is a widespread problem.
According to a December 2017 survey (IPSOS), around 10% of employees suffered from workplace bullying, while a third of respondents indicated that their employer had not taken any measures against bullying at work. This while Netherlands law requires the employer to take measures.

What is the legal framework?

The Working Conditions Act

Bullying falls under psychosocial labor stress as defined in the Working Conditions Act. Employers are obliged by virtue of this law to pursue a policy aimed at preventing or limiting this form of labor stress.

Employment law: Book 7 of the Dutch Civil Code

Pursuant to Article 7: 658 of the Dutch Civil Code, the employer has a duty of care for the safety of the working environment. In addition, the employer must behave as a good employer on the basis of Article 7: 611 of the Dutch Civil Code.

Equal Treatment Act

If there is bullying on the grounds of his religion, belief, political affiliation, race, gender, nationality, heterosexual or homosexual orientation or marital status, then this is contrary to the provisions of the Equal Treatment Act.

The employer therefore has a duty to prevent harmful bullying behavior where possible and to formulate a policy.

Increased risk of bullying

Bullying is a major issue in many organizations. But in certain circumstances, bullying behavior can sneak into it.

Bullying is more common in work environments:

  • that are stressful and or where there are changes
  • where there is a heavy workload
  • where there is an unclear policy regarding employee behavior
  • where there is poor communication and mutual relationships
  • where employees are bored
  • where employees are concerned about job security

The consequences of bullying for the bullied person

Bullying can have serious consequences for physical and mental health. Employees being bullied:

  • Can experience anxiety during work or when thinking about work
  • May have physical symptoms such as high blood pressure
  • Have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Can experience sleeping problems
  • Can experience somatic symptoms such as headache and loss of appetite

The consequences can therefore be quite serious for the bullied person.


Employers who do not formulate a policy and think that bullying is not so bad make a mistake. Bullying has a negative influence on the work performance of employees and therefore has a direct effect on the result of the company.

Known consequences of bullying are:

  • financial loss due to legal costs or screening of the company
  • reduced labor productivity
  • higher absenteeism
  • key employees leaving the company
  • poor team dynamics
  • less trust, commitment and loyalty of employees
bullying in the workplace

Employees who are guilty of bullying can of course also be served with the negative consequences, such as disciplinary measures or even termination of employment. But it does not come to that all that often, because bullying is not visible and is often difficult to tackle.

When bullying is not tackled, it becomes easier for people to continue bullying, especially when bullying happens subtly and sometimes even becomes part of the corporate culture. For example, there may be a culture where bullies claim the honor of the efforts of others, or deliberately sabotage the performance of others, so that they receive the promotion they desire. This is how the bullies nestle in the higher functions. So more and more senior staff uses bullying as a means and it becomes part of the corporate culture.

Culture of Fear

Things can even become worse, when a Culture of Fear becomes a means to achieve workplace goals. In such situations fear is used as a means to realize the business goals and to enforce loyalty. When employees get the sense that bullies are tolerated, a climate of fear may be the result. Several studies have confirmed a relationship between bullying, on one hand, and an autocratic leadership and an authoritarian way of settling conflicts or dealing with disagreements, on the other. Employees will move along, but the price that the company pays is high.

What is actually a a Culture of Fear?

In his book Angstcultuur defines Peter Fijbes a Culture of Fear as follows:

"A Culture of Fear is an organizational dysfunction in which collective, restraining fear is prominent and is used systematically to enforce loyalty, obedience and commitment of employees."

In organizations where a Culture of Fear has arisen, there is, for example, mistrust of one another and the organization, use of intimidation and the use of divide and rule tactics.

Intervention is then absolutely necessary. After all, there is a dysfunctional organization, an organization that is less and less capable of acting decisively and achieving set goals. It is expensive and ineffective and the employees are dissatisfied and disloyal. Everyone keeps their mouths shut and mistakes are hidden. Such an organization needs change management, otherwise it will self destruct.

What can Minerva Advocaten do for you?

If bullying in the workplace occurs, both the employer and the employees involved have a problem. Such a problem is there to be solved. We can, of course, help to solve problems along the lines of Dutch employment law. If the case is seriously escalated, this will often result in the termination of the employment contract of the person who is bullying and / or the person who was the victim of the bullying.

We are naturally happy to assist with this. It is our job. But that does not solve the problem.
We prefer to work with you and any other external parties on building a corporate culture in which bullying is no longer an issue and in which everyone feels comfortable and where it is pleasant to work. Ultimately, that produces the most profit for everyone, including the company results.

Do you have a question?

If you have a question regarding this article, you can submit it to us without obligation. Then we can indicate what we could do for you. Call or email us today. We like to help you. Our motto is not for nothing: "Your problem, our concern."

More information?

Hein Kernkamp will gladly help you further.

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