When most people think of bullying, they picture the high school football player stuffing the lonely computer geek in a locker or the elementary school tormenter forcing the new kid at the playground to give him some lunch money. What most don’t want to admit is that bullying goes beyond schoolyard antics. Workplace bullying is very real and can greatly increase stress levels, panic attacks, and even depression.
In a study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 71% of respondents reported experiencing workplace bullying during the past five years. It’s easy to believe bullying in the workplace doesn’t exist because grown adults should be above those types of childish antics, but it happens more than you think. It happens in the form of aggressive communication like insults or threats, manipulation like withholding paid time off, sabotaging others, and avoiding contact, or acts of humiliation like spreading false rumors, playing harsh practical jokes, or talking bad about someone to make others look good to management.
If you’ve been bullied at work, you may feel like you have no means of defending yourself or have no idea where to go for help. It seems all too real that you receive punishment while the bully goes unpunished or without reprimand. But fear no more! Here are ways you can make a stand to overcome bullying in the workplace.
Check Policies and Procedures
It’s best to take your bullying issues to counselors or organizations that are trained in dealing with these types of issues. It’s important not to make claims or allegations about someone bullying you to those who are not involved with handling these types of situations. Depending on your industry, you might have a Contact, Grievance, or Human Resources Officer or Union Official. They should be able to handle your issue as quickly as possible in a no-blame, confidential manner.
It’s also a good idea to keep a written record of incidents involving the bully that includes date, time, persons involved and present, and what was said or done. The records shouldn’t be used as leverage against the bully, but may be useful later if more formal steps need to be taken.
You can also check whether your employer has a policy and complaint resolution procedure for workplace bullying. It may be available in your employer’s induction package, included in the in-house newsletters, or displayed on notice boards. Depending on your field, there may also be grievance procedures in your industrial award or employment agreement.
Mind Your Mentor
If you want to deal with the situation before it has to result in a formal complaint, you can always seek the advice from a trusted mentor or supervisor who has dealt with being bullied or managed employees who were bullies. Avoid using names when talking to your mentors so they don’t get involved with the situation. You should also avoid talking about it to fellow co-workers or recruiting them to your side. The way you handle the situation professionally and maturely will allow them to make their own judgment.
Confront With Care
If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, you can make it clear to the bully, in a professional manner, that the behavior is unacceptable and unwanted, and will not be tolerated. Sometimes not saying anything only fuels the continued torment and could possible get worse if you stay silent.
Don’t sink to a bully’s level – stay as calm as possible and refrain from yelling or threatening. This type of confrontation is what many bullies look for and it will encourage them to come back for more. Just because you avoid using the same tactics a bully uses doesn’t mean you should show weakness. Be confident and stern but also professional and courteous.
Spread the Word
Bullies are trying to tear you down for their personal gain. One way to fight that is to demonstrate how good of an employee you are. Let your managers know how your projects are going and share what you’ve accomplished in the past few months. Bullies often try to spread rumors about their victims underperforming, but will fall on deaf ears if your supervisors are aware of how much you’ve accomplished.
Your co-workers can also be a great support group. While you shouldn’t involve them in your conflict or rally them to your side, it’s important to foster and grow your workplace relationships so the bully can’t isolate your or make you feel isolated.
The days of schoolyard torment are over. You shouldn’t have to go to work in fear of other co-workers. It is a problem in many workplaces, but depending on your area, it’s illegal and you don’t have to tolerate it with these guidelines. What kind of bullies have you stood up to? Tell us your stories in the comments below.