What To Do If You Are Being Bullied At Work

If you are suffering at the hands of a workplace bully, statistics tell us that unfortunately the bully is likely to be your boss.

This is part 3 in my bullying series. You might like to read part 1 Bullying in your workplace, or part 2 Stop Bullies in their tracks.

It can be a career limiting move to criticise the hand that feeds you, however your workplace is responsible for providing an environment that is safe for you, so don’t let the power imbalance deter you from addressing what is a serious issue.

The way you handle the issue will likely depend on your own personality, the culture of the workplace and what (if any) systems are in place, however these tips represent some effective ways to deal with bullying:

  1. Keep a record of interactions with the bully, including what you did in response to the behaviour and how you felt (if all else fails it will be useful for you to have a record of your abuse).
  2. If you feel comfortable, approach the bully. Although it is hard to fathom, some ‘bullies’ are genuinely upset when they understand the impact of their behaviour. Try to give the bully the benefit of the doubt, they too are human – perhaps they have been under a lot of stress and are unaware that they are being horrible, perhaps they are just blunt and don’t realise that other people appreciate a more diplomatic approach. Whatever the reason, give the person a chance to redeem themselves.

If the above doesn’t work I have listed a number of alternatives that, depending on your situation, may be effective.

  • Make a formal complaint to your HR department. I can’t stress highly enough that this needs to be formal. Don’t just come and have a whinge, you need to clearly and logically explain what the behaviour is, what the impact of the behaviour is and what you want to occur. Although it may be difficult try to be unemotional, try to keep your complaint to factual information where you can substantiate either a negative impact or injury to yourself or the company (e.g. “when John told me I was a moron in front of an important client I felt it was inappropriate, as it impacts negatively upon the reputation of our organisation).
  • Avoid the bully whenever possible, and try not to be alone with them so there is less opportunity for them to terrorise you.
  • Bullies often make snipey, rude comments, feeling secure in the knowledge that most of the time people are silently offended but never confront them about their comments. If the bully makes vague comments, ask them to clarify for you. For example, if Sally comments about how ‘adventerous’ your new outfit is, ask:  “I’m not sure I understand what you mean, can you explain what is adventurous about the outfit?”.  Many times, you will see that the bully quickly backpedals and may even stop directing their remarks toward you, as you are no longer an easy target.
  • If you are dealing with an abusive or aggressive person, never become aggressive back. If you retaliate either verbally of physically not only are you becoming a bully yourself but this behaviour will dramatically reduce your ability to claim you are the person being tormented. Always remain calm and if you feel that you are getting upset or angry, take some time out.

Failing all these measures, you are legally entitled to lodge a claim with your relevant government body. For those who just  want to give up and find a new job, I’d like to ask you what would your strategy be if you encountered another bully in the new workplace?

I hope these tips have been of some use, I would love to hear from anybody who has effectively dealt with bullies in the workplace.

Kate Klease was an executive at Vantage Human Capital, a specialist recruitment and human resources consulting firm that helps ensure clients have appropriate strategies in place to successfully retain, motivate and manage their people.

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