Dealing with bullying in the workplace

INTRODUCTION

Bullying is something we normally associate with school playgrounds and childhood. When we encounter it in the workplace, we usually do not classify this negative behavior in adults as bullying and if we do, we really do not know what to do about it. Without a mum or dad to share our bullying experience with and having them report to our class teacher so that the issue is addressed we generally feel helpless. In this article I help you understand the characteristics of workplace bullying and how to deal with it decisively and professionally.

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

WHAT IS BULLYING?

According to the Cambridge dictionary bullying is when one behaves in a manner that is meant to hurt or frighten someone smaller or less powerful, often forcing that person to do what they do not want to do. It can be influenced by aspects like racism, homophobia, sexism, tribalism, ageism, and all other isms that will be useful in justifying instilling fear, pain, exclusion and repression. Usually, one experiences repeated intimidatory incidences therefore one can name and describe a pattern of behaviour by the bully. With the increased use of the internet in our daily life cyber bullying is becoming a common phenomenon. The distinguishing aspect of workplace bullying is that it happens in a workplace environment. This includes your physical place of work like an office, your workplace email and other e-systems where you interact and any other places where you engage with workmates on work related issues. Sometimes bullying tendencies can transfer into your private space if the bully has access to your private life.

WHO CAN BE A BULLY?

Anyone can be a bully, and anyone can be bullied. Bullies are normally individuals who are very insecure. In the workplace they are normally insecure about their professional capacity. They secure their position by pulling down others. They are afraid and mask their fear through their cruel behaviour. If you look inside them, you will identify where their fear comes from. Most of the time they need help to be better persons. While that is so it is not your mission and responsibility to make them better. Just as anyone can be a bully anyone can be bullied. Therefore you should never accept the position of weakness that can allow you to be manipulated and undermined. You did not come with such a tag at creation.

EXAMPLES OF WORKPLACE BULLYING

Below are some examples of workplace bullying that have been listed by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. It is important to note that these examples can be difficult to classify as bullying if they have happened once. They can also be experienced overtly or subtly.

  • Denying a person tools for their work for no reason
  • Spreading malicious rumours, gossip, or innuendo.
  • Excluding or isolating someone socially.
  • Intimidating a person.
  • Undermining or deliberately impeding a person’s work.
  • Physically abusing or threatening abuse.
  • Removing areas of responsibilities without cause.
  • Constantly changing work guidelines.
  • Establishing impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail.
  • Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.
  • Making jokes that are ‘obviously offensive’ by spoken word or e-mail.
  • Intruding on a person’s privacy by pestering, spying or stalking.
  • Assigning unreasonable duties or workload which are unfavourable to one person (in a way that creates unnecessary pressure).
  • Underwork – creating a feeling of uselessness.
  • Yelling or using profanity.
  • Criticizing a person persistently or constantly.
  • Belittling a person’s opinions.
  • Unwarranted (or undeserved) punishment.
  • Blocking applications for training, leave or promotion.
  • Tampering with a person’s personal belongings or work equipment

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

No matter how powerless you feel you should never allow a bullying situation to perpetuate itself. Below are some things you can do to manage bullying in the workplace

Photo by Dee @ Copper and Wild on Unsplash

Keep record on the bullying behaviour

The first thing you can do to address bullying is recording the evidence of bullying. Never delete emails, documents, recorded voice conversations and video incidences of bullying because you will need to demonstrate the patterned behavior that constitutes bullying.  Where there is no physical evidence take note of the incident, date, time, place and the witnesses.

Check company policy

Most companies have policies that spell out how bullying is handled. If you are not aware of such a policy visit the human resources office or equivalent and find out if your company has any laid out procedures to address bullying. If such a policy exists read and understand it, ask questions to the person responsible for the policy. Use the policy content to manage your bullying experiences and make sure the bully knows that you are aware of the company policy and that you will act on it if they continue. Remember that consultation is not escalation. If the bullying continues follow the steps that are laid out in policy to seek remedy from your employer.

Get counselling

Workplace bullying can be traumatic. It can lead to depression, low self esteem and even physical illness and pain. Seek the services of professional counsellors to help you manage your emotions, mental health and physical body. Most workplaces nowadays have wellness policies that provide workers with inhouse or contracted counselling services at no cost to the employee. If your workplace does not have such services find ways to get counselling either through private practitioners, community services or through family and friends if you cannot afford to pay for the service. Getting counselling is important because it helps you process what you are going through, to regain your internal superpower and it improves your self-esteem. An improved self esteem will help you face the bully with confidence which can usually be intimidating to the bully. Without counselling a victim of bullying can sometimes become a perpetrator as part of their process to heal. Hurt people hurt others.

Share your experiences with work colleagues

Always find someone in your workplace whom you can share your experiences with.  Sharing your experiences may lead you to identifying other victims of the bullying, finding allies in managing the situation and locating empathisers who can help you map solutions. In some cases you may sadly find out who is an ally to the bully and some may never clarify their position on the matter, therefore share cautiously.

Leave the job

Sometimes it is impossible to get remedy either because a workplace has got no policy in place to deal with bullying, the bully is in a position of power and cannot be challenged and there is no support from colleagues and managers. In such instances the only option is to leave the unhealthy work environment. Believe you me no job is worth staying at if you must sacrifice your superpower and professional progress. Leaving will allow you to heal of the trauma that bullying brings. It will also open you up to finding a new job in a place that values and protects you and to identify new places where you can thrive.

CONCLUSION

Bullying happens in the workplace. Like everywhere else bullies are normally very insecure and afraid people who hide behind their mean nature- you should not be afraid of them. Always check for company policies that protect you in the workplace. Do not hesitate to use them and where there are no policies advocate for them. Put yourself first and never allow an unhealthy environment to take a toll on you.

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