The Workplace Jellyfish

A workplace jellyfish is a person who doesn’t explicitly say anything too harmful, but has a way of insulting you, without you even knowing. This is a form of bullying and has no place in the workplace.

Don’t you love walking into the office, settling in to start your day, and thinking, “This is going to be a great one”? There was no traffic on your way into work, your coffee order was just right, and the kids were out the door with no major tantrums. What a day!

Then you see who is coming your way, and you sigh inwardly. Oh no, it is the “jellyfish.” What is a jellyfish you might ask? It is that person who doesn’t explicitly say anything too harmful, but has a way of insulting you, without you even knowing.

“You are looking good, John. That weight gain sure suits you.”


“You seem happy today. That Tinder date must have been a hot one.” (WINK WINK)


“I loved the work you did on that project. It always helps when the boss lets you focus on that one thing, right? You caught a lucky break! 



You can feel the stinger coming your way with an insult wrapped in a compliment. You sit up a little straighter at your desk, massage your shoulder, and wait for it to happen. Toughen up, buttercup!

“Good morning…”

Here it comes!

Call a Bully a Bully

Sound familiar? Do you have a jellyfish in your organization? The person seems to get away with saying just about anything. Why is that? The hidden insults and bullying come wrapped up with a cute little bow. Well, if you are a manager—and even if you are not—it is time to put a stop to bullies in your workplace. Yes, that is precisely what they are, tentacles and all. We can make all types of excuses or label them differently if you want, but in the end, they are bullies.

“He just has a warped sense of humor.”

“She likes to get under your skin. Ignore it.”

“They only tease you because they like you.”

“He grew up in a different time.”

“He is from the north; they are rough around the edges up there.”

As they say in the UK, “Bullocks!” We can make many excuses for bad behavior, but that also makes us perpetrators! Accepting someone’s bullying is just as bad as being the bully. We become unwitting enablers of their bad behavior.

When we think about bullying in the workplace, we might define it as actions or behaviors that are belittling, abusive, or harmful to someone. That sounds a bit ominous, and many of us would need to see some disgusting behavior to label it bullying. However, we need to expand our definition. It doesn’t have to be as grim as you think. Bullying is ANY behavior or actions that make someone else feel uneasy, embarrassed, or intimidated, and the list can go on. 

Ignoring someone because you don’t like them? STING

Excluding one person from a group because he or she doesn’t fit in? STING

Constantly criticizing someone’s work in front of others? STING

In the workplace, these actions are not acceptable. The little things we do can add up to someone feeling like an outsider. It doesn’t have to seem sinister. The more we pay attention, the more we will be able to change and broaden both our behaviors and our reactions. 

Take a look at your anti-jellyfish policy and illustrate some examples with your team members on what bullying looks like in your workplace. And collaborate on ways to put an end to workplace jellyfish behavior (unfortunately, the tried-and-true remedy won't work for the workplace!). 

Kevin James Saunders is a trainer at Oculus Training Group, a North American based corporate training and mystery shopping company offering sales management, reservations, sensitivity, and customer service training programs for a variety of service-based industries throughout Canada, USA, Europe, and the world. For more information, call 888.OCULUS4 or visit You also can connect with Oculus on Twitter @oculustraining, via e-mail at or visit it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter