Bullying is not only a huge emotional drain on an individual, it's a huge financial drain on businesses. It's easy enough to put a stop to it--bullies need victims and they need bystanders to ignore their bullying, so if we don't put up with bullies, they don't have anyone to bully and the problem is solved.

A new study out of the Netherlands (usual caveats about cultural differences and don't take small number studies--161 people in this case--too seriously) suggests that no matter what victims do, their co-workers will ignore the bullying.

Researchers divided people into two groups and presented them with bullying scenarios and asked how they would respond based on the victim's response.

In the first case, "the victim was proactive, daring the bully to criticise them to their face or demand they cease their behaviour." In the second case, the victim was avoidant. This victim "avoided the situation, by skipping out when the bully entered a room, or by taking sick leave to avoid work entirely."

The researchers thought the bystanders would be more likely to jump in and help the proactive victim. But, it turns out that the bystanders were equally unwilling to help, regardless of how the victim acted.

So, basically, if there's an office bully who puts her sights on you, you're alone. You shouldn't be, of course. Your manager should put a stop to it. (And your manager should have the power to do so.) If your manager is the bully, then her manager should put a stop to it, and the HR department should do everything in their power to stop this ridiculous behavior

However, real world experience teaches me that this study is probably correct. Whether it's because we assume that a victim somehow brought it on themselves, or because we don't want to be the bully's next victim, or we just flat out don't care about other people, I don't know. But, bullying happens all the time at work (and in school, and at church, and in social groups), and it just keeps continuing.

What do we learn from this? Well, one, if you see bullying, you need to fight your natural impulse to ignore it and deal with the problem head on--especially if you're the bully's manager or HR person. The other is, if you're the victim, it probably won't get better on it's own. So, maybe call it a loss and move on.

That's a horrible thing to say, but if this study reflects reality, it's likely your best move unless the rest of the job is worth the wrath of the office jerk.