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What to Do if You’re Being Bullied at Work

What to Do if You’re Being Bullied at Work

Shannon Hutton

We all know that there are bullies at school. I bet you can still remember who they are from when you were growing up. And now if you’re a parent, you likely have taught your children what to do if someone tries to bully them. Unfortunately though bullies don’t go away once we graduate and many of us have been bullied at our workplace. But that doesn’t mean we have to put up with it.

Before I share ways to respond when being bullied in the workplace, I want to describe what that type of bullying looks like.

Bullying in the Workplace

Though the setting for bullying has changed from the playground at recess and the school cafeteria, the dynamics are the same. Workplace bullies exert their power to intimidate, exclude and/or belittle their targets. This could take the form of coercing a person to take a certain position in a meeting, whispering and walking away when a person approaches, and criticizing a person’s job performance in the presence of colleagues. Regardless of the specific way bullies exert their power, the end result is that bullying in the workplace has serious repercussions.

Effects of Bullying

Although bullies in the workplace usually don’t resort to physical attacks, that doesn’t mean this bullying doesn’t impact the person physically. Bullying takes both a physical and emotional toll on the person being bullied. Specifically, the targets of bullies often have trouble sleeping, get stomach aches, headaches, have eating issues, and increase their alcohol consumption. In addition, the person being bullied often experiences a series of negative feelings including frustration, sadness, anger, despair and depression.

The effects of bullying also go beyond the person being bullied and impact the organization as a whole because bullying in the workplace results in tardiness, missed days of work, lower productivity and poor morale for those involved. Therefore, it is imperative that the people being bullied in the workplace and their supervisors do all they can to end the bullying.

Ways to Respond if You’re Being Bullied at Work

Just because you are being targeted by a workplace bully doesn’t mean you are helpless. There are steps you can take to stop this form of harassment. Here are a few suggestions:

• Keep a written account of every time you are bullied. Provide specifics like who, where, when and how. This documentation will demonstrate that these aren’t isolated incidents and that this harassment has been ongoing. The written details also make it easier to report the bullying in an objective, rational manner so there is no room for anyone to question the validity of the report.

• Report the bullying to your supervisor. If your supervisor is the bully, report the bullying to your supervisor’s boss. While I know this can be uncomfortable, bullying is a form of harassment that needs to be reported. And depending on the level of harassment, there could be grounds for legal charges to be made. Either way though, this unacceptable behavior needs to be brought to the attention of others who can successfully intervene.

• Avoid the bully when possible. While I understand you can’t skip staff meetings, you can choose to sit away from the bully in the meeting and eat your lunch at a different time and place. I am not recommending this because I believe you need to hide and run away from the bully, but because you will be bullied less if the opportunity doesn’t present itself.

• When it’s not possible to avoid the bully, do what you can to walk with a colleague to meetings, lunch and other workplace settings. This is because you are less likely to be bullied when you are with someone else.

• Walk confidently, with your head up, to convey self-confidence because bullies target those they think are weaker. If the bully believes you are on equal footing, she is less likely to target you.

• Pay attention to how you’re sleeping, eating, feeling and functioning at work. If you notice changes in any of these areas, I recommend contacting your Employee Assistance Program to discuss the situation or seeing an outside therapist.

You Have a Right to Feel Safe at Work

While it’s unfortunate that bullying is not something people grow out of, that doesn’t mean it’s something you have to put up with. You have a right to feel safe and comfortable at work. And whether the bully is in the lunchroom or the boardroom, he has to learn that his behavior is not acceptable.


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