Do You Work With a Bully?
Bullying in the workplace is real. You may have thought it ended on the playground at recess or in the locker room in High School, but that’s just not true. Adults still bully others, mostly for the same old reasons.
What is “bullying?” According to HumanRights.org, “Workplace bullying is verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group of people at work." It can happen anywhere. The first thing you need to do is to recognize it for what it is.
Bullying is distinctly different than harassment. Its definition includes creating a risk to health and safety. Harassment is categorized as “unwanted behavior that offends, humiliates or intimidates a person, and targets them on the basis of a characteristic such as gender, race or ethnicity” according to the Employment Law Handbook. Harassment has a legal recourse, bullying does not.
Typical signs of bullying include:
- Verbal abuse
- Reputation damage
- Isolation, intentionally leaving you out of meetings, etc.
- Constant close supervision/monitoring
Poor management sometimes allows bullying and abuse. If your boss is totally disengaged or has no idea how to handle the situation, many times it goes unmanaged. Managers or supervisors who don’t have an idea how to manage can resort to cruelty, as well.
Being a target of bullying is serious. It can affect your health as well as your personal relationships and ability to advance in your career. It can cause panic attacks, high blood pressure, and insomnia or even fuel a tendency to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. The clearest sign of bullying is that it keeps happening over and over again. It’s not just one bad day or something that happens once in a while.
Part of the challenge is that bullying can take so many forms. It can be a colleague who constantly criticizes you in front of the rest of the team. It can be a supervisor who may retaliate if you take steps to stop the offending behavior. It can take the form of competition for the best assignments where the bully will go to any lengths to get the best shifts or take credit for your work.
So what can you do?
Educate yourself: take a look at the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute (WBTI) website and take advantage of the resources regarding the law, awareness, health impacts, etc.
Practice courage. Call the bully on his/her behavior and name it. Tell him/her that you prefer not to be spoken to in that manner or have him/her reading over your shoulder constantly, etc.
Document everything. Be sure to note the time, place and what was said and by whom. Be sure to stick to the facts – don’t talk about how it made you feel, but do mention how it is affecting your work. Keep emails and meeting notes that support your case.
See if others on your team are being affected in a similar way. If so, it will strengthen your case to go to HR and see what can be done. If they haven’t been bullied, perhaps they’ve witness the treatment you’ve received and agree it’s abusive.
Stay calm. Whenever the bully is around, remain grounded. Don’t let him bait you – he’s looking for reactions…don’t give it to them. It only encourages the bad behavior.
Call his bluff. If you’re being berated for your performance, instead of apologizing and trying to explain, ask what they would’ve done. It can stop them in their tracks if the tables are suddenly turned.
Find a mentor or other leader at work that will stand up for you.
Remember you’re working here for a reason. You have the skills and ability to be successful in this job and have every right to be there. Don’t let a bully erode your confidence.
Do your best work. If you’re an exemplary employee who’s always on time, goes above and beyond what’s asked and helps others, you may not even be a suitable target for a bully.
Report the abuse to HR – However, be aware that the HR Department’s mission is to protect the company. Depending on whom the bully is and what’s at stake, their willingness to step in may not be what you need.
Get counseling. It will help with the stress and assist you in making up your mind about staying or going.
Consider getting a different job. If the bully is not going anywhere and you’re unable to stop the behavior, it may make sense to move on. Make sure the next position you take is in a company that has a supportive culture where you’ll be valued.
What NOT to do
Whatever you do, there’s no reason to blame yourself. No one deserves to get bullied. This is a test of your mental strength, but don’t give in to any insecurity that the bullying was your fault. Try not to obsess about what’s happening to the point where it affects your health and relationships. And don’t assume it’ll get better. Stand up for yourself and take steps to stop the bullying if you can. If not, it’s time to move on.