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Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind – The Impact of Leaving Work Following Workplace Bullying

26th Feb 2021

The Challenge

In 36% of cases, the targets of workplace bullying end up being the ones to leave their job (TUC, 2015). This may be a conscious choice for employees, deciding to leave to avoid further emotional turmoil (Khan & Khan, 2012). Alternatively, workplace bullying targets may be formally dismissed from their roles when attempting to find a solution to the ongoing issue. For example, research suggests that employees exposed to bullying behaviour at work may become frustrated, leading them to behave against organisational norms and be punished by their company accordingly (Notelaers et al., 2019).

Despite quickly confronting a bully to tell them to stop, words and actions may be perceived as a form of retaliation and deviance, justifying dismissal in the eyes of the organisation (Rayner et al., 2001; Killoren, 2014). Additionally, with those engaging in bullying behaviour frequently at the top of an organisational hierarchy, they may have the power to dismiss employees if they perceive them to be obstructive and unprofessional (van Heugten et al. 2021). In fact, even when raising issues of workplace bullying with management, a revictimisation process may occur, potentially resulting in targets being accused of causing trouble, subsequently being asked to leave the organisation (Georgakopoulos et al., 2011).

The Impact

Previous sufferers of workplace bullying have shared that, despite their past experiences, leaving an organisation and exposure to bullying behaviours increased their perceptions of control, hopes for the future and well-being (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010).

However, workplace bullying can potentially leave individuals trying to make sense of their professional reputation whilst managing a perceived sense of cynicism around justice and fairness in the working world and society (Branch et al., 2013). Eventually, this lack of faith can result in low self-confidence and damage to professional identity, triggering a long-term grieving process for their previous work life (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2008; Duffy, 2018).

The Next Step

One consequence of workplace bullying includes having increased feelings of shame, which may make it challenging for those starting a new role to be asked about their previous experiences of bullying (Hallberg & Strandmark, 2006). Additionally, in line with a reduced sense of self-esteem, former targets may enter new employment with concerns over how they could resolve similar situations going forward (D’Cruz & Noronha, 2010).

Despite these outcomes, those affected by workplace bullying can, by working with an appropriately trained professional, look to restore and reconstruct their self-narrative and professional identity (Farmer, 2011). By working through ways to embrace forgiveness of the past, those who have been affected by workplace bullying may be able to support their well-being and fuel a healing process from their past experiences (Mishra et al., 2018). As a result, this can allow them to move forward in their professional and personal lives.

If you have had to leave your organisation due to workplace bullying, or have been affected by any of the topics mentioned above, please feel free to contact us via our e-mentoring service for a confidential conversation.


Written by Jason David Phillips – BulliesOut Volunteer

Jason is a former Public Relations and Communications professional. He is a Trainee Organisational Psychologist looking to support the well-being of employees through his writing at BulliesOut.

Image downloaded for free use from Unsplash 



Branch, S., Ramsay, S., & Barker. M. (2013). Workplace Bullying, Mobbing and General Harassment: A Review. International Journal of Management Reviews, 15, 280-299. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2012.00339.x

D’Cruz, P., & Noronha, E. (2010). The exit coping response to workplace bullying. Employee Relations, 32(2), 102-120. doi: 10.1108/01425451011010078

Duffy, M. (2018). The Psychosocial Impact of Workplace Bullying and Mobbing on Targets. In Duffy, M. & Yamada, D.C. (Eds.), Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (pp. 131-149). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Farmer, D. (2011). Workplace Bullying: An increasing epidemic creating traumatic experiences for targets of workplace bullying. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 1(7), 196-203. Retrieved from http://www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol._1_No._7_%5BSpecial_Issue_June_2011%5D/25.pdf

Georgakopoulos, A., Wilkin, L., & Kent, B. (2011). Workplace Bullying: A Complex Problem in Contemporary Organizations. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(3), 1-20. Retrieved from http://www.ijbssnet.com/journals/Vol._2_No._3_[Special_Issue_-_January_2011]/1.pdf

Hallberg, L.R.M., & Strandmark, M.K. (2006). Health consequences of workplace bullying: experiences from the perspective of employees in the public service sector. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, 1, 109-119. doi: 10.1080/17482620600555664

Khan, A., & Khan, R. (2012). Understanding and managing workplace bullying. Industrial and Commercial Training, 44(2), 85-89. doi: 10.1108/00197851211202911

Killoren, R. (2014). The Toll of Workplace Bullying. Research Management Review, 20(1), 1-13. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1038831.pdf

Lutgen-Sandvik, P. (2008). Intensive Remedial Identity Work: Responses to Workplace Bullying Trauma and Stigmatization. Organization, 15(1), 97-119. doi: 10.1177/1350508407084487

Mishra, N., D’Cruz, P., Gupta, P., & Noronha, E. (2018). Forgiveness: A New Dynamic in Workplace Bullying. In D’Cruz, P., Noronha, E., Mendonca, A., & Mishra, N. (Eds.), Indian Perspective on Workplace Bullying (pp. 59-78). Singapore: Springer Nature.

Notelaers, G., Törnroos, M., & Salin, D. (2019). Effort-Reward Imbalance: A Risk Factor for Exposure to Workplace Bullying. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(386), 1-5. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00386

Rayner, C., Hoel, H., & Cooper, C. (2001). Workplace Bullying: What we know, who is to blame and what can we do?. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

TUC (2015, November 16). Nearly a third of people are bullied at work, says TUC.  https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/nearly-third-people-are-bullied-work-says-tuc

Van Heugten, K., D’Cruz, P., & Mishra, N. (2021). Surviving Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment. In D’Cruz, P., Noronha, E., Baillien, E., Catley, B., Harlos, K., Hogh, A., & Mikkelsen, E.G. (Eds.), Pathways of Job-related Negative Behaviour (pp.231-262). Singapore: Springer Nature.

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