Workplace Bullying is defined as a specific phenomenon where aggressive and intimidating behaviours are directed systematically at one or more colleagues or subordinates leading to a stigmatization and victimization of the recipient (Leymann, 1996). These repeated actions and practices are directed to one or more workers, which are unwanted by the victim. Bullying may be done deliberately or unconsciously, but clearly cause embarrassment, offence and distress that interfere with job performance and cause an unpleasant working environment (Einarsen, 1999).
Harassment and bullying in the workplace are often confused with one another, as there is a good deal of overlap between the two. Harassment is defined as any form of unwanted and unwelcome behaviour which may range from mildly unpleasant comments to physical violence (Cohen, 2012). The main difference that separates bullying from harassment is that harassment often involves physical factors such as intruding in one’s personal space, uninvited touching, and/or the damaging of one’s possessions. Bullying differs in the fact that it is generally emotional or psychological and it often involves verbal and/or written communication and actions (“Difference between bullying”, 2008). Harassment is covered by the discrimination act and the protection from harassment act but bullying is not, so clear decisions have to be made to determine whether you are the victim of harassment or being bullied. Sexual harassment is a version of harassment where the victim is harassed because of his/her gender or sexual orientation. Racial harassment is when the attacks happen due to the colour of your skin, race or cultural background (Cohen, 2012).
Another difference between bullying and harassment in the workplace is that adult bullies will target anyone, even well-liked and popular co-worker. In fact, adult bullies do not focus their negativities toward people who they thought of as weaker, but toward people they perceive to be better than themselves. Meanwhile, one who harasses generally pick on those who are dissimilar than the majority whether it due to their race, gender, and/or other distinct differences. Harassment of these minorities is often recognized and even expected, whereas bullying of people who do not have these different backgrounds is more difficult to distinguish. In conclusion, harassment is founded on discrimination whereas bullying is based on jealousy and/or insecurity (“Difference between bullying”, 2008).
Some of the other differences are described in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1.Differences between Harassment and Bullying (RMIT, 2012, Figure 1)