Verbal Abuse in the Workplace | Dealing With Bullying at Work

It’s no secret that verbal abuse occurs in the workplace. However, the question that begs to be answered is how to deal with it when it happens to you. Verbal abuse can be hard to define and even harder to confront. Luckily, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself from harm and restore your peace of mind. Keep reading and discover how to recognize and stand up to verbal abuse in the workplace.

What is Considered Verbal Abuse in the Workplace?

Verbal abuse is a form of bullying that can seriously impact both the victim and the workplace. It can be defined as any aggressive, derogatory, or insulting language directed at an employee. It may include anything from demeaning comments and name-calling in the workplace to threats and intimidation. Verbal threats can also take more subtle forms, such as sarcasm, condescension, and manipulation.

No matter what form it takes, verbal abuse is always about one thing — control. The abuser uses words as a weapon to belittle and humiliate their victim, which can have a profound effect on the victim’s mental and emotional well-being.

Forms of Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

Verbal threats in the workplace can create a hostile work environment and make it difficult for employees to do their jobs. They can be either explicit or implicit:

  • Explicit threats are those in which the harasser clearly states that they will harm the victim, either physically or emotionally.
  • Implicit threats are those in which the harasser makes comments or gestures that imply that they may hurt the victim.

Verbal abuse in the workplace can also be socially, psychologically, or emotionally abusive. In addition, it may appear as a one-time event or in a persistent pattern of behavior.

  • Social abuse involves putting someone down or making them feel excluded. It can manifest as gossiping, intentional sabotage, or name-calling at work.
  • Psychological abuse manifests in the forms of yelling, threats, and intimidation.
  • Emotional abuse can involve making someone feel guilty, playing mind games, or gaslighting them.

In some cases, verbal abuse on the job may even be directed at a specific protected characteristic, such as race, gender, or religion. This type of abuse is known as hate speech, and it’s against the law in many jurisdictions.

Learn more: Racial discrimination in the workplace

Who Are Abusers in the Workplace?

Abusive behavior in the workplace is not always easy to identify; an abuser can be anyone in a position of power, including an employer, coworker, or customer.

Employers may be tempted to use verbal abuse to control their employees by yelling, name-calling, and threatening them. Moreover, a verbally abusive boss can also engage in more subtle forms of abuse, such as regularly criticizing an employee’s work or belittling their ideas.

It is not uncommon for coworkers to engage in this type of behavior either. It can be as simple as making disrespectful or demeaning comments, or more subtle, such as regularly interrupting or talking over someone. A verbally abusive coworker may also show indirect abuse by spreading rumors or gossiping about a colleague.

Verbal abuse from customers is a common problem for many workers in the service industry. While it is important to maintain a professional demeanor, it can be challenging to do so while facing an abusive customer. In some cases, the abuser could try to provoke a reaction deliberately, while others may simply be unaware of the effect of their words.

Long-Term Effects of Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

Individuals subjected to verbal assault in the workplace may suffer from anxiety, depression, and difficulty sleeping. It can also cause victims to doubt their perception of reality, leading to further isolation from the outside world. In addition, the long-term effects of verbal abuse at work can lead to increased absenteeism and turnover, as well as decreased productivity and burnout

In order to create a healthy and productive work environment, it is essential to address any instances of verbal abuse effectively. Therefore, if you suspect you or someone you know is being verbally harassed at work, seek help immediately.

How To Deal With Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

There are several ways to protect yourself if you are verbally attacked at work. First, it is important to identify the behavior as verbal abuse; this can be challenging, as many people downplay or dismiss comments that are actually abusive. Once you have identified such behavior, you can take the following steps:

  • Keep a record of the abuse. This can be helpful if you decide to take legal action or file a complaint with HR.
  • Talk to someone you trust about what is happening. This can help you to get support and perspective on the situation.
  • Stand up for yourself. If the abuse is happening in front of others, don’t just take it — speak up and defend yourself. This will show the abuser that you’re not going to be a doormat.
  • Talk to HR. If the abuse is severe or has been going on for a while, it’s time to involve HR. They can investigate the situation and take appropriate action.
  • Consider legal action. If the verbal assault at work is even more serious, you may want to consider starting a lawsuit. This should be done as a last resort, but it might be necessary to protect yourself from further harm.

Read more: How Can HIPAA Protect You at Your Workplace

How To Report Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

Unfortunately, many employers still do not care if their employees are abused. Therefore, it is essential to know your options if you find yourself in this situation.

First, try to speak to your employer directly about the problem. If they are unwilling to listen or take action, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. EEOC is a government agency that investigates complaints of discrimination and abuse, including widespread sexual harassment in the workplace and other forms.

You can also file a lawsuit against your employer if they have knowingly allowed the abuse to continue. In some cases, you may be able to receive financial compensation for your suffering. However, it is crucial to speak with an experienced attorney first — they will be able to advise you on the best course of action and help you protect your rights.

How To Prevent Verbal Abuse From Happening in the Workplace

There are steps that both individuals and organizations can take to prevent verbal abuse from happening in the workplace. For example, employers should establish clear policies against this type of conduct and communicate them to all employees. In addition, managers should receive training on recognizing the signs of verbally abusive behavior in the workplace and take swift action if it occurs.

Resources for Victims of Verbal Assault at Work

Many companies have policies that deal with workplace harassment, and all employees should familiarize themselves with them. In addition, there are many support groups and hotlines available to help people subjected to verbal abuse. With the right resources and time, victims can recover and move on with their lives.

Verbal Abuse in the Workplace | The Takeaway

Verbal abuse at work is a serious issue that may have long-term consequences for both employees and employers. While it can be difficult to determine if banter or joking has gone too far, you should learn to notice the signs of verbal abuse and take steps to address the situation before it escalates. 

If you are experiencing or witnessing verbal threats at work, please reach out for help. Remember, no one deserves to be mistreated at work.

Verbal Abuse in the Workplace | Frequently Asked Questions