How to Deal with Workplace Bullying and Harassment
Workplace bullying refers to any repeated, intentional behavior directed at an employee that is intended to degrade, humiliate, embarrass, or otherwise undermine their performance. It can come from colleagues, supervisors, or management, and is a real problem for workers at all levels. It's no joke. By learning to recognize and address workplace bullying behavior, you can help to create a healthier, more productive environment for yourself and your colleagues. Keep reading after the jump to learn more.
Understanding Workplace Bullying
Learn what a bully is and what a bully does.Just like their immature little brothers and sisters on the schoolyard, workplace bullies use same tools of intimidation and manipulation to bring you down. Learning to recognize their behavior is the first step in putting a stop to it and getting back to work in a comfortable environment.
- A bully gains enjoyment from tormenting others. You might not always get along with everyone at work, but that doesn't mean you've got a bully on your hands any more than you're a bully yourself. Distinguish between the two by recognizing this trait--does this person seem to make special effort in messing with you, tripping you up, or bringing you down? Do they seem to enjoy it? If the answer is yes, this might suggest a bully.
- Bullies often have deep-seated psychological issues related to control. Know that your bullying has less to do with your performance and your personality and more to do with the bully's insecurities.
Recognize bullying behaviors.Watch for the sure signs of a bully that signify more than a simple misunderstanding or personal disagreement. Workplace bullying might include:
- Shouting, whether in private, in front of colleagues, or in front of customers
- Belittling or disrespectful comments
- Excessive monitoring, criticizing, or nitpicking someone's work
- Deliberately overloading someone with work
- Undermining someone's work by setting them up to fail
- Purposefully withholding information needed to perform a job efficiently
- Actively excluding someone from normal workplace/staff room conversations and making someone feel unwelcome
Pay attention to signs outside of work that suggest you're a victim of bullying.You might be suffering from bullying if you suffer at home in the following ways:
- You have trouble sleeping or struggle with nausea and vomiting because you're scared to go to work
- Your family gets frustrated because of how much you talk and obsess about work problems
- You spend days off worrying about going back to work
- Your doctor notices health problems like blood pressure and other stress concerns
- You feel guilty about having provoked your workplace troubles
Don't ignore the feeling that you're being bullied.If you feel singled out unfairly, or as if you're picked on a disproportionate amount, it can be tempting to come up with excuses. "Everyone gets treated this way," or "I deserve it" are common guilt trips that bullies help to lay on you. Don't fall into a trap of self-loathing if you feel you're being bullied. Form a plan to stop the bullying and reclaim your workplace.
- Unlike schoolyard bullies, who tend to pick on victims they identify as alone or weak, workplace bullies typically pick on employees they consider threatening to their career. If your presence makes someone else look bad enough they feel the need to take you down, take it as a twisted compliment. You're good at what you do. You know this. Don't let them confuse you.
Tell the bully to stop.This is, of course, more difficult than it sounds, but you can keep a few simple gestures and statements in mind to bring out when you're feeling bullied.
- Put your hands up, creating a barrier between you and your bully, like a policeman using the stop signal with his hand.
- Say something short that communicates your frustration, like: "Please stop and let me work" or "Stop talking please." This will help you to stand up to the behavior and give you ammunition for your report if the behavior continues.
- Never escalate the bullying. Shouting counter insults or yelling back might end up getting you in trouble or making the situation worse. Use a calm, collected tone of voice, and tell the person to stop as if you were talking to a dog chewing on a slipper.
Keep a record of all bullying events.Record the name of your tormentor and the method of bullying. Record specific times, dates, locations, and the names of any witnesses to the events. Provide and gather as much information as you can. Collecting documentation is the most important and concrete way to get the bullying to stop when you take the issue to your superiors or a legal team.
- Even if you're not sure you're being bullied, journaling about your feelings in a diary can help you to get your feelings out and figure out for yourself what you're struggling with. As a result of writing down your feelings and your frustrations, you might decide you don't have a bully, or that you definitely do and you need to take action.
Get witnesses.Consult with your fellow co-workers any time you feel bullied and make sure they'll back you up by corroborating your evidence. Have them write it down for future reference. Pick someone who works at the same time you do, or who has a desk near yours.
- If bullying tends to happen at particular times or in particular locations, have your witness linger in the area if you suspect you're going to be tormented by your bully. Bring partners into a meeting with a superior who you feel bullies you. You'll have backup in case things get ugly and you'll have evidence for later.
- If you're being bullied, there's a good chance others are too. Team up and help each other deal with a common enemy.
Keep calm and wait a while.Make sure that you've collected your evidence and that you're calm and professional. Running to your boss in the throes of emotional turmoil can make you seem whiny, or like you're overreacting, when there's a bigger issue at hand. If you're calm, you'll be more articulate, present a better case for yourself, and stand a better chance of changing your workplace for the better.
- Wait overnight between a bullying situation and reporting things to your boss. If you're bullied in the mean time, or if you have to wait a while before talking to your boss, do your best to avoid your bully. Remain calm and continue on your way. If you expect bullying might happen, you'll be prepared when it does.
Set up a meeting with your supervisor or HR representative.Bring your written evidence, your witnesses, and present your case as calmly as you can. Practice what you're going to say before you get in there and have to say it. Keep your complaint short and sweet, and fill out any documentation paperwork provided for you by your superiors.
- Don't suggest a course of action unless your boss requests it. In other words, it's inappropriate to talk to your boss and say, "Bruce needs to get fired because he bullies me." Lay out your case as strongly as possible and with as much incriminating evidence as you can, say, "I'm frustrated with this behavior and I've run out of options, so I thought you needed to know." Let your superiors come to their own conclusions about a course of action.
- If your superior is the one bullying you, contact HR or contact your supervisor's superiors. It's not the army and there is no "chain of command." Talk to someone who can make a difference.
Follow up.If the bullying continues and it still hasn't been sorted out and nothing is being done to stop it, you have the right to take it further and go higher up, by talking to higher management, personnel and even HR (Human Resources). Continue until your complaint is taken seriously and the situation is remedied to allow you to work in a welcoming environment.
- It would be helpful to come up with a variety of alternatives to help make the situation better for you. If your boss's supervisor is unwilling to fire your boss but acknowledges that bullying has occurred, are you willing to transfer? Are you willing to work from home? What would make the situation "right" by you? Give some alternatives serious thought in case you need to present a case for yourself.
- If you present evidence and nothing changes or the situation becomes worse, consult a lawyer and consider legal action. Provide them with documentation and seek legal action.
Recovering From Bullying
Make getting better a priority.You won't be any good as a worker and you won't be happy as a person if you don't take the time to recover from your experience with bullying. Take some time off and ignore work for a while.
- If you've presented a good case for yourself, you should be a good candidate for a paid vacation. Jump on this opportunity.
Engage in meaningful and fulfilling activities outside of work.It's called work, not super-happy-fun-time, for a reason. Any job, even one at a healthy workplace that you enjoy, can get to you after a while and leave you in need of a vacation that rejuvenates your work ethic and your spirit. If you've been bullied and want to start feeling better, you might:
Talk to your doctor or psychiatrist.You might be in need of more substantial care than you can provide by yourself. Therapy or medication might be in order if you've spent a considerable amount of time in the grip of a workplace bully.
Change jobs.It may be that, even if the bully has been dealt with, you might be more comfortable seeking new opportunities elsewhere. Treat this whole experience as an opportunity rather than a setback. If you were unhappy at your place of work, maybe developing skills in a new profession, moving to a different climate, or just transferring to a new branch might provide you with a fresh outlook on life and work.
Preventing Bullying as an Employer
Implement a zero-tolerance bullying policy at your business.Any health and wellness policy needs to involve anti-bullying protocols. Make sure this is covered and supported by the management and is taken seriously at all levels of the business.
- Pair this with an open door policy and hold frequent orientation meetings regarding workplace bullying, making sure employees at all levels are on the look out for this behavior.
Address bullying behaviors immediately.It's easy to sit back and hope for the best, thinking that your employees will be able to work it out among themselves. It won't. Don't let a problem fester among your employees if you want a productive, healthy, and effective work environment.
- Investigate all complaints seriously and fully. Even if complaints seem to come from overly sensitive employees and turn out to be the result of simple misunderstandings, they're worthy of your attention.
Eliminate competition.Often bullying evolves from a sense of competition in the workplace, leading employees who feel threatened by the skills of other employees to attempt to bring them down or sabotage their efforts by engaging in psychological warfare. It's a dangerous and problematic workplace dynamic to let fester.
- Workplace competition is based on the belief that employees want to be the best and will work harder when rewarded for successes. While it's true that competition in some business models can increase productivity, it also increases the turnover of employees and can create a hostile and unwelcoming environment.
Encourage management and staff interaction.The more involved your workforce is at all levels with itself, the less likely the lowest-level workers are to take matters into their own hands. Think of it as Lord of the Flies--don't let the parents be absent from the island, and the kids will be ok.
Sample Email To Co-Workers
QuestionIs it harassment if a co-worker is degrading me to other co-workers?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, it is harassment if the degradation is affecting the quality of projects you get and the treatment you receive at the workplace, more so if it is taking place every day and affecting your mental and physical health. If you have evidence of harassment, take it to HR and work with them to find a solution.Thanks!
QuestionCan I take legal action?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou should always consult with human resources first. If you do not have an HR department, you could seek legal advice from a lawyer who specializes in workplace cases.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I combat systematic bullying by a management team against employees?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf there is an HR department at your company, complain to them. If there are higher-ups above the management team, express your concerns to them as well. If multiple employees come forward together instead of just one person, all the better, If you have any evidence you can present, that's helpful. If none of this helps, then there is likely a level of corruption and/or complacency in your workplace that you won't be able to overcome, and it might be best to work on finding yourself a different job.Thanks!
QuestionCan writing "nitpicking comments" be classified as bullying?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerNot really, no, but it depends on the nature of the comments. Keep a record of every comment that you feel could be classified as bullying. In the event that you ever want to address the issue with your supervisors, you'll have clear records of the comments.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I get a hard copy of this article to display at my workplace?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerDon't do that--you will want to only post official policies from your employee handbook at work. This function is fulfilled by the Human Resources department or a designated proxy.Thanks!
QuestionI have been verbally abused and none of the article suggestions worked. Are there more suggestions I could try?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerHave a phone with a voice recording app, and record any interactions that you might have with the bully. Show the recording to your boss or HR representative.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I deal with an unnecessary suspension?CaliforniaproudCommunity AnswerIf you are part of a union, see your union representative. If not, and you are in a state in the union that is labelled 'At Will Employment', use caution before deciding how to fight an unfair suspension. The owner of a smaller company will probably value knowing that you would rather be at the office. A larger firm is a little more tricky. Using the proper means of 'chain of command' would be to your benefit. Stay professional, and start a letter-writing campaign. Carbon copy all of the proper supervisors or managers. Include the home office, if there is one. Let them know you see their point, but feel unfairly singled out, perhaps. Also, remind them that you would rather be working!Thanks!
QuestionWhat if the supervisor is bullied by the staff employee and undermining all work relationships of the supervisor? Why is it assumed the supervisor is the bully?Top AnswererBecause bullying is associated with a position of power, whether real or perceived. Bullying among equals is rare, as is bullying where a more powerful person is the victim. Regardless of their roles, if a subordinate and a supervisor for some reason both perceive the subordinate to be more powerful, then sure, bullying can occur in that direction as well. The article deals primarily with how to handle it though, and this relationship is just an example.Thanks!
QuestionI am a minority in my workplace, how can I deal with constant bullying and alienation without challenging it formally?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf you don't want to file an official complaint, you can either calmly ask people to be a little more respectful (which may not be very effective), ignore them, or find a new job.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can I do if my boss texts me constantly to have me tell other coworkers things he doesn't want to?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerTry to understand why the boss is doing this. If you think this puts in the face of trouble, then do it in a nice way.Thanks!
I am a supervisor and have a coworker who is constantly nasty and rude to fellow coworkers and myself. S/he questions all my decisions and goes to management if they don't like it. Is this bullying?
Is it a form of bullying if someone calls me a "no brain"?
My boss, the bully, is also the owner of the company. Is there any alternative to seeking legal advice? For that matter, what could a lawyer do?
- Carry on being yourself and carry on feeling good about yourself. Don't believe the rubbish they say and don't let them stop you being you.
- Don't believe bullying myths such as "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me!" and others e.g. "Big girls/boys don't cry." Wordsdohurt and cut to the very core, and being bulliedcanreduce a person to tears and sadness.
- Don't ever take what a bully says personally; doing so will only damage your self esteem.
- Do not retaliate - It can throw things out of hand and you could end up being blamed instead of the bully.
- A bully may interrogate the victim with lots of 'police interview' or 'cross examination style' questions. Interrogation can make a victim be afraid to open up and it can make them feel like the bad one instead of the bully/harasser and it can make them feel anxious, defensive and more alone.
- Beware malicious gossip and unkind remarks that are dressed up as jokes or banter. If it hurts your feelings, it hurts your feelings.
- Keep a diary of all the bullying events and keep evidence such as emails and work instructions to back up your claims.
- For nasty comments said to you - the best thing to do is to say nothing and walk away, or just use one-word replies to show that you are not interested in the bully's/bullies nonsense.
- Think about the reaction. If it escalates, make sure you have a witness for any future action you might take. Most of all you are putting this person on immediate notice that you will not be treated this way and will not under any circumstances accept such behavior.
- Keep on speaking up. Remember you are not alone.
- If things are really bad don't be afraid to go to your doctor and take time off sick or have some annual leave.
- Remember you are not telling tales when you report bullying - You and everyone else has the right to be safe,happy treated fairly and free from any kind of bullying. Keep on speaking up till someone listens to you and takes you seriously.
- A bullied person can feel very lonely as well, and the effects can last for a long time, even for life.
- Be prepared to have to go outside of the company's and HR department's procedure and seek legal assistance.
- You can advise the bully that if the actions do not stop you have no alternative to escalate it to line management for resolutions as the harassment is making your employment intolerable.
- If you are a victim of bullying environment, especially if if you're always a victim, the center stage of teasing circle, its also best if you evaluate yourself from time to time. Ask yourself why are they doing this to me, what's my fault. Collect all the negative words they say about you, but this will only torture your mind, just one word only that really hurt you, pull down your persona,one word that many throw against you. Could it be they thought you are a loner, someone who can't get along. They mistaken your shyness as being aloof. Then its about time you groomed yourself, be friendly from time to time, learn to get along with their conversation. But if you think there is really a superiority complex with these people, find someone or 2 person that have same interests or passion as you. It is important in the workplace that you really have a friend, at least one. Because usually loners and soloist persons are always the victim of bullying. Just be confident and always love yourself. If you want many people to enjoy your company, the only person who should enjoy first your own company is you.
- If the bully tries to berate you, or even cracks nasty jokes on you, the best remedy is to record the conversations by mobile phone recorder. The best solution is to completely ignore them, if you continue to ignore him/her by not paying attention to them and acting like you don't feel anything, it can nullify them and eventually they may stop bothering if you they can't get your attention.
- Any forms of physical and mental abuse should be treated as serious threats to your health and well-being. Report them at once and seek legal advice if necessary.
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