Don't let your workplace bully win; here's how to handle bullying at work.
Bullying has become far too common in the workplace, taking the form of nonverbal, verbal, psychological, and physical abuse. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 19 percent of adults in the U.S. are bullied at work, while 60.3 million workers are affected by workplace bullying.
In a TopResume survey on bullying in the workplace, of the 1,229 respondents, only four percent said they have never felt bullied in the workplace; that means a staggering 96 percent of respondents have felt bullied by someone else at work.
And, if you think bullying only comes from those in a position of power, like a manager or a boss, think again. In that same survey, 25 percent of respondents said they have felt bullied by a peer or co-worker.
Workplace bullying in a virtual world
We are living in a new normal. That new normal means an increase in remote work for the first time and a blend of in-office and remote workers for many companies. While some individuals enjoy working from home, others might prefer the structure of being in an office more. In either case, workplace bullying increases work stress and takes the enjoyment out of work no matter where you're located.
And this transition to a more remote workforce makes it challenging for employers to witness and monitor workplace bullying, enabling bullies to cause harm.
It's easier to bully people when they don't have to see them face to face; they hide behind instant messenger chats and text messages. Since many remote workers have a challenging time “logging off” from work at the end of the workday, they don't have a chance to step away from the bullying to get a fresh perspective on how to handle it if they're the target. Further, the more relaxed home-office environment can open doors to an unprofessional attitude and rude comments from co-workers.
TopResume career expert, Amanda Augustine, shares, “You might assume that workplace bullying will be less of an issue when everyone is working from home, but unfortunately, this isn't the case. In fact, many may find it easier to bully a co-worker when they can hide behind a computer keyboard.”
Augustine continues, “In addition, the more casual home office often leads professionals to be less buttoned-up than they would be in their organization's physical office, and more likely to drop their guard about what they say and do via email, messaging, and video-conference platforms.”
Examples of remote (and in-office) bullying include:
Messages containing sexist or discriminatory remarks
Embarrassing social media posts
Threatening messages or emails
Demeaning, belittling, or talking over someone during meetings or video calls
Micromanaging every detail of work an employee does
Spreading gossip or rumors about co-workers
Taking credit for someone else's work
Withholding necessary resources for someone to get their job done
Yelling at an employee in front of other employees
Gaslighting and making an employee second guess themselves
Workplace bullying can lead to health concerns, undue stress, and low productivity at work — and that's just the tip of the iceberg. With that said, it's important to take appropriate steps to handle bullying at work to support your wellbeing. Below are some suggestions to consider if you find yourself bullied at work (or witnessing it).
How to handle bullying at work
1. Research your company's policy
If you're being bullied at work or know of someone who is, research your company's policies to determine the proper protocols to report such activity. Many organizations have a no-tolerance policy for such behavior, which includes reporting guidelines when being subject to or witnessing it.
If your organization doesn't have a policy or the current policy needs updating to reflect remote work arrangements, speak to your manager or HR department about putting a new company policy in place to protect employees from abuse.
2. Take a beat
If you feel you are being bullied at work, take a breather to size up the situation. From a calm and grounded perspective, you can determine the best way to deal with the situation.
Tip: Keep in mind that people make mistakes. Take a moment to size up the situation and determine if the "bullying" was simply a one-time incident or something that will evolve into continued abuse and harassment.
3. Take care of your wellbeing and mental health
Understandably, many individuals are afraid to speak up when they are being bullied. They might be concerned about what others will think. And, if the bully is their boss or someone in a position of power, then one's livelihood is at stake.
However, bullying can have a negative impact on your overall wellbeing, both mentally and physically. Take care of yourself by pulling resources together to support you. A mental health professional or counselor is an excellent place to start to help you deal with the stress of bullying and come up with solutions on how to handle it.
4. Talk to your higher-ups or HR
If you are not comfortable speaking to the individual who is bullying you directly, you might need to discuss it with your manager or human resources. Choose the course of action that feels best for you for your situation.
Tip: When addressing your concerns, focus on the negative impact on productivity, wellbeing, and morale while staying professional and calm.
5. Don't take it personally
While this is easier said than done, do your best to not take bullying personally. Remember, when someone is bullying you, it's more about them than it is about you. Often, a bully is acting from a place of insecurity, jealously, and/or from a need to control.
In fact, the targets of bullies are often high performers that do well at work. Practice having healthy emotional boundaries that keep you from reacting or feeling bad about yourself when workplace bullying occurs.
6. Address the issue directly and rise above
This won't always be possible or comfortable, but it is often best to speak up and stand your ground when communicating with a bully. At the same time, you want to be professional and take the high road.
Augustine advises, “Stay calm and rise above. Take the higher ground and try to respond in a rational and professional manner. There's no point in trying to beat a bully at their own game, as it will only add fuel to the fire. Instead, address the conflict head-on by letting them know — in a non-accusatory tone — how their actions are making you feel.”
Fran Hauser, author of "The Myth of the Nice Girl," suggests the following phrases when dealing with a work bully or someone who is not treating you appropriately:
"Please don't talk to me that way."
"Let's try to get this conversation to a place where it can be productive."
"Let's take a break and come back to this later."
7. Leave if it's not worth it
Your wellbeing and mental health are most important, and without it you're no good to anyone. If you have done all you can to eliminate the bullying, but it's still occurring, then it might be time to explore other options and leave the organization.
It might feel like the bully won if this is the avenue you choose, but when you take care of yourself and leave a bad situation, you're the winner. Also, you want to know you're working for an organization that takes care of its employees and puts a stop to abusive behavior when it occurs.
8. Document all of it
This bit of advice on how to handle bullying in the workplace is extremely important to remember: Always document everything related to your interactions with the bully. This not only provides a timeline of events, but it also helps you recall information more easily when needed.
Augustine suggests, “Save email threads, take screenshots of text messages, and keep a log of the instances in which your colleague bullied you. Jot down the dates, times, locations, and the names of any people who witnessed your co-worker bullying you firsthand. If you have the ability to record your video conference meetings, do so and hold on to the files, should you need to present them as evidence of your colleague's bullying ways.”
When possible, communicate via email when dealing with a bully to have a written record of the communication, as well.
Tip: If a bully is attempting to make you look bad or imply you're not doing your job, you can ask for written confirmation and details that they will have to own up to when questioned.
9. Consult with an attorney
Though states do have rules and regulations in place for bullying, it's not illegal. However, bullying that is also considered harassment is illegal. If you don't get a resolution at work after going through all of the channels you know to go through, you might want to speak to an attorney to discuss your options. Generally, this is a last resort due to cost and time required to pursue legal channels but could be worth it depending on your circumstances.
The survey results highlighted at the beginning of this post show that there is a resounding need to deal with workplace bullying. Take action to support yourself if you find yourself being impacted by a workplace bully. Also, when you speak up and take a stand for yourself, it empowers others to do the same.
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