When workplace bullying intrudes into personal life

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Légende: Recommendation of our expert

Expert adviser:

François COURCY,
full professor, Department of Psychology,
Université de Sherbrooke


France ST-HILAIRE, associate professor, Human Resources Management, Université de Sherbrooke Maude VILLENEUVE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Stéphanie BÉRUBÉ, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Rébecca LEFEBVRE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Marie-Hélène GILBERT, assistant professor, Management, Université Laval
Michel PÉRUSSE, adjunct professor, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.

If we know that the challenges that employees encounter in their personal lives affect their work and the entire organization, what about the effect on their personal lives when they are victims of workplace bullying? Here are some original research results on the vicious circle of workplace bullying.

Rodríguez-Muñoz and colleagues’ study, published in 2017, is one of the first to show that workplace bullying affects not only the employee themselves and the organization, but also the people close to them.

In this study, the researchers wondered whether workplace bullying, psychological detachment and emotional distress had consequences for or influenced conflicts experienced between employees and their partners, and whether this affected their relationship satisfaction.

What do we mean by : Workplace bullying?

Although no consensus has been reached on a definition, workplace bullying refers the imposing, by force, of unwanted, repeated, negative actions, leading one or more employees to submit to the bully’s will or be compelled to defend themselves.

These actions can take the form of :

  • personal attacks (criticisms or insults);
  • inappropriate actions or behaviours that affect a person’s ability to do their work (withholding of information).

An employee verbally threatens their manager, saying that they will quit if the manager does not agree to their unjustified demands for a salary raise. When the manager asks them to carry out their duties, the employee repeats the threat repeatedly and does not do the requested tasks.


A manager repeatedly imposes administrative and disciplinary measures on one of their employees for infractions that they did not commit (being late for work, refusing to work with colleagues, lack of respect for health and safety rules).

What do the results of the study tell us?

  • employees were less able to detach psychologically from work.
    Workplace bullying is an interpersonal stress factor. It can lead to difficulties in detaching psychologically.
  • employees experienced more feelings related to emotional distress.
    Workplace bullying reduces employees’ personal resources (ability to act) and thus contributes to increasing their emotional distress. Using resources to deal with bullying during the workday can leave fewer resources available for interactions at home with their partner. Employees who have fewer resources are less able to solve problems associated with stressful situations.


When workplace bullying and emotional distress are present:
  • employees and their partners observed more conflicts, and employees rated their spousal relationship as being less satisfying.
    Emotional distress caused by workplace bullying can negatively affect employees’ mood. Partners who spend a lot of time with employees who are victims of workplace bullying are empathetic toward them, and are therefore more affected by their emotions that are related to emotional distress. Workplace bullying can also affect employees’ interactions with their partners, which could explain conflicts happening at home and employees’ reduced satisfaction with respect to their spousal relationship.



  • … of their partner as a source of social support
    Social support is one of the most powerful protective factors when employees experience major stress or emotional distress. A spousal relationship that is affected by the bullying of an employee will gradually deprive the person of one of the main sources of support, leading to a vicious circle that will affect, through the negative impact on their performance, the rest of the organization.

Profile of participants

  • 68 employees and their partners, for 136
  • 72 women and 64 men
  • age: 41 (employees); age: 43 (partners)
  • Various business sectors (hotels, services, industries, education)

Employees and their partners were recruited by students in an organizational psychology class. Each student had to contact an employee from their network of contacts as well as the employee’s partner to ask them to participate in the study.

Twice a day for five consecutive workdays, employees and their partners had to complete questionnaires on workplace bullying (by employees in the morning), conflicts at home, satisfaction with the spousal relationship, psychological detachment and emotional distress (by employees and their partners in the evening).

Because studies must always be interpreted with caution

The recruitment method for participants in this study and the duration of data collection prompts us to be cautious.

  • Each student had to arbitrarily recruit an employee and his or her Individuals did not have an equal probability of being selected. It is therefore more difficult to conclude that the results are representative of the general population.
  • Cases of workplace bullying can continue over a period much longer than five A spousal relationship also evolves over time.

Actions employers can take


The authors of the study recommend taking concrete steps to prevent workplace bullying and to intervene in bullying situations.



  • Roll out an anti-bullying policy

Examples of steps organizations can take

  • Train your managers and employees on the policy to lead them to :

    • quickly recognize unacceptable aggressive and counter-productive behaviour (insults, threats, repeatedly excluding a manager or employee);
    • understand the potential sanctions if these behaviours happen (verbal notice, written notice, suspension without pay, dismissal).


  • Make your managers and employees aware of the importance of recovery and psychological detachment

Examples of steps organizations can take

  • Train your managers and employees on recovery to :

    • recognize the signs of a need for recovery (feeling tired, difficulty concentrating);
    • learn about possible recovery methods at work and outside work (take short breaks, get a good night’s sleep).
  • Train your managers and employees on psychological detachment to :

    • recognize the signs of trouble detaching psychologically (when at home, thinking about a problem at work);
    • identify ways of fostering psychological detachment (setting a time limit to talk about the situation in the evening with their partner, writing about the situation and the emotions they experience).


  • Support your managers and employees when it comes to emotional regulation strategies and stress management

Examples of steps organizations can take

  • Train your managers and employees on emotional regulation to :

    • recognize the signs of emotional distress (experiencing negative emotions);
    • identify ways to reduce emotional distress (go for a walk).
  • Train your managers and employees on stress management to :

    • recognize the signs of stress (heart palpitations, stomach aches);
    • identify ways to reduce stress (doing physical activity, learning to say “no” or setting boundaries).



  • Support your managers and employees

Examples of steps organizations can take

  • Offer your managers and employees who are victims of workplace bullying ways to take action:

    • implement the complaints management process;
    • remind them of support measures offered by the organization (employee assistance program that gives them access to sessions with qualified professionals);
    • place sanctions on those involved, when necessary.
Resource on preventing interpersonal violence in the workplace

www.irsst.qc.ca  Website developed by the Institut de recherche Robert-­‐Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) and the Équipe de recherches sur les interrelations personnelles, organisationnelles et sociales du travail (RIPOST).

The website aims to help employers establish a preventive approach in their workplace.

  • It is geared to both small and large organizations;
  • The content has been scientifically validated;
  • It proposes a five-step integrated approach to prevent interpersonal violence in their workplace;
  • Activities to be done at each step are explained clearly;
  • It offers organizations a number of useful tools to download free of charge.

Please note !

  • As the website is part of an organizational approach, the content is aimed more at employers than at employees who are victims of workplace bullying and are seeking ressources
  • Use of the downloadable tools does not guarantee the success of interventions on violence in your workplace.


Courcy, F., St-Hilaire, F., Villeneuve, M., Bérubé, S., Lefebvre, R., Gilbert, M.-H., Pérusse, M. (2018). When workplace bullying intrudes into personal life. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at www.global-watch.com


Rodríguez-Muñoz, A., Antino, M., & Sanz-Vergel, A. I. (2017). Cross-domain consequences of workplace bullying: A multi-source daily diary study. Work & Stress, 31(3), 297 – 314.

Author: christine