Workplace bullying is a common occurrence and sometimes it can happen openly or covertly making it hard for others to notice. It can affect your life in and outside work even taking away your joy for what you do. Read on to find out how to put workplace bullies in their place.
Photo credit: Yan
Growing up, I’m sure most of us have encountered a bully or two in school. Once we completed our education, we probably thought we’d never have to deal with such people again. Then, you meet the workplace bully, the person who makes you dread coming to a job you love every morning because of how they treat you at work, impacting your performance.
The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as “The repeated, health-harming mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees through abusive conduct. This can be in the form of verbal abuse, work sabotage, humiliating, intimidating, or abusive behaviors; or a combination of the above.”
It is more than someone simply annoying you or disrupting your workflow. There is an unseen power imbalance between you and a work bully. This person may target you to the extent of feeling helpless towards the situation. Workplace bullying can take a huge toll on your physical, emotional, and mental health making you vulnerable to conditions like stress, depression, or anxiety.
A workplace bully can take many forms and use various tactics, but here are the four main types to look out for at work.
Types of workplace bullies
This is probably the stereotypical image that pops up in your head when you hear the word ‘bully’. This is the person that always communicates aggressively to you at work by sending angry emails, yelling, or using hostile body language. They frequently make a public scene and render their targets and co-workers afraid to speak up for fear of also being bullied.
This type of workplace bully will not yell at you like the screamer; their approach is different. They will regularly criticize you and your abilities to the point where they wear you down and it starts affecting your work performance or the quality of your results. They might isolate you socially, leave you out of things, take credit for your work, or constantly point out your mistakes. The critic will go out of their way to disparage and humiliate you in public or one-on-one. Think Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada (that’s right, she’s the villain in the story).
No, it’s not that kind of gatekeeper. This workplace bully withholds resources like information or instructions and manipulates you to set you up for failure. It can be your boss, subordinate, or even a peer. They will criticize you for doing the wrong thing when they did not give you the tools or information to do the right thing in the first place. Sounds frustrating, right?
The two-faced friend
This bully is the sneakiest of all and can be very hard to spot. Why? They typically act as your cheerleader and friend to your face while sabotaging you behind your back. The only way you may find out that this person is bullying you is if someone else eventually tips you off. In such a case it can be hard to know why things aren’t going well for you at work when you don’t know where the problem is coming from.
So, how should you handle workplace bullies?
Regardless of the type of bully you face, you will have to confront them eventually because this person is coming in between you and your career goals. Some people may choose to work on changing the bully’s behavior, but this can be easier said than done. You can only tolerate a workplace bully for so long and this encourages them to continue with their harmful ways. Here are the best ways to deal with workplace bullies so you can have peace of mind at work.
Confide in someone
This can be a loved one, a colleague, or even a friend outside of work who can help shed some light on your situation from another perspective. They can also offer helpful advice or insight on the matter, so keep an open mind. However, be careful when sharing your issue with certain co-workers. Someone can easily misunderstand what you say or even gossip with others about your issue.
Know your rights
Unfortunately, workplace bullying isn’t considered illegal. However, your company may have policies against bullying and this can help your case if the person breaches any of these rules. Find out if your company has policies against workplace bullying, verbal abuse, or mistreatment that you can reference when making a complaint. You can also seek legal advice to determine if your case falls under harassment or discrimination to know how to proceed.
When a workplace bully starts targeting you, there is an opportunity to speak up before things go too far. Say something as soon as you feel like someone is bullying you at work and this will stop them in their bullying tracks. Brushing it off when it starts only worsens the bullying as it cements you as a permanent target.
Don’t get revenge
Sometimes when people wrong us, we have the urge to retaliate and this is as human as you can get. It’s only natural; you want to make the bully feel as bad as you do by badmouthing them to a supervisor or leaving them out of meetings. However, it is advisable to avoid seeking revenge on a workplace bully because it ends up reflecting negatively on your reputation and brand. Not to mention it can backfire in your face.
Document the bullying
It is also advisable to document any incidents of workplace bullying in a diary or journal. This includes the time, date, and details of these situations. Note down what happened in each interaction, any witnesses, how it made you feel, or how it affected your work productivity. It’s even better to include direct quotes if you can remember them exactly. Keep hard copies of any correspondence, texts, letters, or emails that indicate workplace bullying.
If any other employees have witnessed the bullying firsthand, you may also need them to have your back if you decide to file a complaint with human resources or your manager. You can never have enough evidence so make sure you get every detail. This way, when the bully needs to be terminated or disciplined there is enough proof to support your case.
Tell management and HR about the bully’s behavior
If the bullying becomes too much, go to your manager or HR with all the evidence you’ve collected. They will proceed with your situation and offer assistance based on the company’s policies regarding workplace bullying. They may offer you options that reduce your contact with the bully. You’ll determine how management and HR handled the situation depending on how the bully treats you going forward.
If your boss is the bully, in some cases you might not want to go to HR straight away. See if you can speak to a union representative or a lawyer first before gauging your next move.
Take care of yourself
Bullying can take a toll on your overall well-being in and out of the office. You may feel depressed, lose sleep, or develop anxiety because of the situation. Find time to focus on the things you enjoy outside work whether it is exercise, a sport, or just spending time in nature. Be kind to yourself and this will help you feel much better about yourself.
You can also get professional help from a counselor or a therapist if the bullying has become overwhelming.
Look for greener pastures
No matter what you do, you can’t change a toxic workplace that encourages bullying. If you raise the issue with the higher-ups, and as Tupac says, you see no changes, then that may not be the work environment for you. It is a strong indication of leadership failure and you are better off somewhere where they value healthy workplace behavior.
Start looking for a new job as soon as possible so that even if you report the issue and things go left, you have some options lined up.
Workplace bullying can happen to any employee and it can affect your wellbeing and your work performance long-term. These recommendations can help you know what moves to make and preserve your reputation, career, and personal brand in the process.