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Photo by Jason Roswell

A Brief History of Bullying

​Bullies have always been a part of any group development, from the earliest civilizations, and in religions, militaries, schools, neighborhood cliques, teams, families, and companies. 

The workplace bullying phenomenon, as we know it today, first entered the public consciousness on the heels of the workplace sexual harassment issue in the early 1980s. During that decade, Swedish psychologist Heinz Leymann was among the first to conceptualize and analyze the act of workplace bullying. In the early 1990s, British journalist Andrea Adams popularized the term “workplace bullying” through a series of BBC radio documentaries. 

In the United States, bullying first became a major issue in the public sector, with some schools and government agencies taking an avid interest in safeguarding against it. Later, this interest spilled over into private sector workplaces. During the early to mid-1990s, more American researchers began studying the problem of psychologically abusive behaviors at work and the harm they create. Another driver of interest in the private sector was the growing concern about the costs of workplace bullying to a company’s bottom line.  

Today, workplace bullying incidents are four times more common in all U.S. organizations than sexual harassment episodes, and the related costs to businesses are also four times higher. In behavioral studies, bullying is now often closely linked to suicide and violence. The seriousness of the problem warrants that employers implement a sensible duty of care program in response.