Workplace Bullying and the Gifted Adult


Hearing the word brings to mind the schoolyard bullies many of us encountered on the playground, in the classroom, and even in our own neighborhoods. Those who bully others, it is often said, choose their victims from those who seem to stand out for one reason or another—red hair, taller than average, odd clothing choices or smarter than average. And this is why gifted children seem to be the victims of bullying more often than typical kids because their intelligence and gifted traits, in so many ways, make them stand out. It is not unusual for our gifted children to be the victims of ridicule, teasing, envy and bullying.

But bullying doesn’t end in the schoolyard or once our gifted kids grow up. It just goes from the schoolyard to the company water cooler. Workplace bullying is an adult version of schoolyard bullying and the victims are nearly always a highly-capable, exceptional worker who discovers that his hard work and exemplary skills may have unknowingly threatened a co-worker and many times, the victim’s boss.

In this dog-eat-dog world we live in, competition to stand out at work, to be recognized for one’s contributions to the company, and to be promoted to better positions is extremely fierce—it is often a no-holds-barred take down to get ahead. The only way some workers feel that they can climb the ladder of success is to take down their competition, the co-worker who outshines them. The worker who is very knowledgeable, more creative, more intellectually adept, a better problem-solver, and the worker who can quickly make the best decisions needed are most often the targets of workplace bullying according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. 1 We can easily assume that many of these exceptional employees would be gifted or highly-intelligent adults.

With workplace bullying, the tactics adult bullies use to undermine the outstanding employee’s job status, confidence and reputation are more subtle and less obvious than schoolyard bullying. Withholding information, marginalizing them at meetings, stealing ideas from them, and spreading rumors are all tactics used to destroy the confidence and strong standing of the targeted employee. It is crushing the tall poppy corporate style. And bullying can be as devastating for adults as it is for our children

Cutting down the tall poppies can span a gifted individual’s lifetime—in school and in the workplace.

As the parents of gifted children, we know our child is likely to experience bullying and we work hard to nurture and build resilience in our children to minimize the damaging and painful effects from bullying, and to help them stand up for themselves when bullied. 2

We also need to be cognizant of the reality that our gifted child, once they are grown and step into the workplace, may just as easily become the target of workplace bullying simply because of their above-average intelligence. Bullying is more than an unfortunate reality our gifted children face now and can easily face in the future as gifted adults. Today, as we equip our children to deal with bullying as best they can, we will also be building in them the critical skills and providing them with the necessary tools they will need if and when they face bullying in the workplace.

1.”Who Gets Targeted?”, Workplace Bullying Institute

2. Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families, Pamela Price, GHF Press 



“Dealing with Difficult People, Bullying & Sabotage”, Gifted, Talented & Creative Adults

“Gifted and Tormented”, Sandra G. Boodman, Washington Post, May 16, 2006

Bullying and the Gifted: Welcome Back to School”, Christopher Taibbi, Psychology Today, August 26, 2012

“How To Deal With A Workplace Bully: Advice For Victims, Bosses, And Co-Workers”,  Amy Morin, Forbes, August 21, 2015

“Workplace Bullying: Its Impact Goes Beyond Hurt Feelings”, S. L. Young, Huffington Post, February 25, 2015

“Workplace bullying: A scourge that’s hard to define, harder to root out”, Diane Stafford, The Kansas City Star, November 3, 2014



This post is part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop, “Bullies, Bullying and Gifted/2E Kids”.



22 Comments on “Workplace Bullying and the Gifted Adult

  1. Don’t forget personal relationships. They go out the window in public. They act like everything is great and funny and wonderful, in private. Then once they got you in public, the diva temper tantrums start. All for show.

  2. Pingback: Bullying Across the Gifted/2e Lifespan GHF

  3. Celi, I love your post! I hope it helps people think more carefully about their actions (and the effects of their actions on the behavior of their own children…!). I love your message and the great resources you included! Thank you.

  4. Pingback: Workplace Bullying and the Gifted Adult | Crushing Tall Poppies | G/T-Time

  5. When lots of frustrated/unhappy people create a high turnover rate by leaving suddenly for some fantastic position across country or because they “missed home,” it ain’t because they’re rotten apples. Folk don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad management.

  6. “But bullying doesn’t end in the schoolyard or once our gifted kids grow up. It just goes from the schoolyard to the company water cooler.”

    Yes, very helpful to remember. I managed to escape any workplace bullying, but that may be because I worked in a helping profession where upward mobility isn’t a focus. I can see how a corporate workplace could be a bastion of bullying.

    • Yes, corporations do have a tremendous amount of workplace bullying depending on the culture–some companies turn a blind eye to it. But, workplace bullying can happen anywhere and it can be very subtle and insidious, and then not recognized until the damage is done.

      Thanks, Amy

  7. Thank you, this makes me appreciate many employment situations where I was wholly accepted and, for my domains functioning where I am most original and creative, both utilized and given credit.

    I wonder if workplace bullying has ebbs and flows depending on one’s progress within an organization. Does it peak before a transformation?

    I know people have to protect themselves, and aren’t always up for a battle. Still, is that caution, a fear of confrontation, some of how bullying sustains itself? Would you counsel adults to battle on?

    • Bob,

      From my own research into workplace bullying, it is a prevalent problem, but wholly ignored. It is dealt with similarly to how some adults help children when they are bullied: “Don’t worry about it. Get over it. It is no big deal.” But it is.

      My opinion is that it happens more within large companies or businesses where more workers are jockeying for promotions and it becomes difficult to stand out among the many employees. This jockeying includes a victim’s boss because he is also in fear of being upstaged by his own report.

      As far as an ebb and flow, I would imagine that it would relate to the economic success of the company at that time–when the company is not meeting their financial goals and workers fear for their jobs, I’m sure many will be acting out of insecurity.

      I do know the effects are devastating because it affects the worker AND his family. When a husband and father is fearful of losing his job because an envious boss is working to undermine his reputation and destroy his chances of being promoted, the entire family takes on that stress.

      Many countries have laws in place to protect victims of workplace bullying, but not the U. S. It is perfectly legal to ruin the career, reputation and life of an exemplary employee as you climb up the ladder.

      Thanks, Bob, for your thoughtful questions. If you want to know more, check out the links in the post.

  8. I was bullied pretty terribly at my last job. My supervisor seemed to find delight in trying to tear me down inappropriately at work. I am so happy to not work in an office under the control of someone else any longer.

    • It happens way too often, Amy, and it is so often supervisors who are intimidated by one of their reports outshining them so they set out to cut them down! I’m sorry you experienced that, but not at all surprised.

      On the flip side, I love watching your Instagram videos of all your yoga moves–amazing!

  9. “Cutting down the tall poppies can span a gifted individual’s lifetime—in school and in the workplace.”

    Yes! We get so focused on raising our gifted kiddos, that we forget that they’ll be gifted adults, struggling with so many similar issues. It’s important to remember to protect their childhoods, while equipping them to soar throughout their adulthoods.

    • And sadly part of equipping our gifted children for being successful gifted adults is to prepare them and help them moderate their giftedness so as not to cause friction with others. Focus on their strengths and help them delicately navigate the possible issues. Thanks, Colleen!

    • Thanks, Caitlyn. Just thought I would bring up the issue because it is a huge problem for gifted adults who are victims of workplace bullying.

  10. Thanks for the list of resources, Celi. Another related resource is the book Rebels At Work by Carmen Medina and Lois Kelly. It’s a manual on how to get your ideas heard in the workplace and how to negotiate relationships. (and possibly avoid bullying)

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