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How to survive a
workplace bully

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Remember how every school always had a bully? It might have been some boy who picked on all the other boys, or a girl who went out of her way to shun one of the other girls. The sad thing is those little boys and girls all grow up to be big boys and girls and most of the time they’re still bullies even as adults.

One of the most common places that adult bullying occurs is in the work place. In fact, it’s so common that research from Dr. Judy Blando of the University of Phoenix has proven that 75% of employees that answered her survey stated that they have been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or as a witness [1].

Bullying in the workplace can have a tremendous effect on the mental health of victims. It can result in challenges regarding mental distress, physical illness, emotional harm and interfere in the career prospects [2].

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e. sabotage, which prevents work from getting done [3]. Sometimes adult bullying can be overt and fairly obvious but most of the time when adults are bullied its done covertly and it can be difficult to identify the harassment.


How do you know if you’re being bullied at work?

Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Are you being ignored or alienated?
  • Are you held to different standards than your peers?
  • Are you publicly criticized, belittled or teased?
  • Do you feel as if you’re being verbally abused in public or private?
  • Are you removed from duties or has your role changed without reason?
  • Do you experience overbearing and constant supervision?
  • Is every decision you make called into question, even the tiny ones?
  • Have you experienced unfounded threats and comments about your job security?
  • Has your boss told you to just work it out for yourself?
  • Do you feel sick when you think about going to work? [4]

If you answered yes to some or more of those questions then there’s a pretty good chance what you’re experiencing is bullying in the workplace.


What to do if you are being bullied at work?

Let’s look at a couple of tactics you can implement to manage workplace bullying.

Don’t let them get away with it

Speak up and speak up early. The best way to combat a workplace bully is to cut them off as soon as possible. As soon as they start treating you with disrespect or demonstrate any of the behaviours that we talked about above, you need to let them know that it’s not acceptable. You have the power to teach people how you want to be treated. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, but if you let the bully’s behaviour slide, it will undoubtedly become worse and therefore harder to stop later.

Take notes

This is far more important than you could ever imagine. If you’re being bullied there’s a very good chance that at some point you’re probably going to raise the issue with either your manager or HR department. Not only are they going to want examples of the bullying, the bully is certainly going to ask for examples. If you only have one example, both the bully and the mediator will agree that it’s a one-off event, and remember, bullying is an ongoing behaviour so you’re going to need a substantial record of that behaviour.

The best way to approach this is to keep a diary and document every instance where you believe bullying occurred. Try to include as much detail as possible. Things like what happened during the interaction, how it made you feel, if there were any witnesses to the bullying, how the bullying affected work productivity and if you can, try to include direct quotes (to the best of your memory).

Having a record of the bully’s behaviour will be your best asset when raising any issues.

Take care of yourself

Being the victim of a bully can have a substantial effect on your mental, emotional and physical health. You can lose sleep, feel anxious and depressed, have headaches, stomach aches and many other symptoms. The best thing you can do to help yourself is to do the things you enjoy. If you have a hobby or like to play sport, then do those things a little more. If you like yoga, then attend a few more classes a week. The key is to be kind to yourself.

If the bullying is getting you to a stage that’s overwhelming then it may be time to talk to someone like a trusted friend, relative or a counsellor.

Talking it through is not going to be a solution to the bullying, but it can help you cope better with the situation.

If you’re keen to learn more about work stress, check out this MensLine Australia article work stress management techniques 

Know your rights

The first thing to know is that bullying isn’t illegal, but your company is likely to have to have a policy in place around the issue of bullying. It can only booster your case if you can highlight one of your company’s policies and demonstrate how your bully is in breach of that policy.

Talk to somebody in power

Sooner or later you’re going to get to the point where enough is enough. There’s no reason why you should have to put up with a bully day in and day outIn most organisations, you will have a manager or a HR department who you can go to and raise any issues you may have.

In an ideal world that person will mediate the situation and seek a mutually benefical solution. There are times when that mediation will be successful and you can go back to enjoying your workplace. But keep in mind that there is also a chance that the situation is unable to be resolved. It’s not uncommon for bullies in this situation to claim to be a victim and never, ever admit that they were apart of any wrong doing. Even going through the process might be enough for the bully to pull their head in (even just in the short term) and to raise awareness as to the kind of behaviour going on in the workplace.

Get out of there

It’s sad, but most people fail to stand up to bullies. If you’ve told the bully that their behaviour is unacceptable, you’ve documented their behaviour, raised that issue with people in power within your organisation and they’ve still done nothing about the bully; then there’s a very high chance that you’re either working for cowards or bullies. That’s not a workplace you probably want to be working in so go get another job. Don’t look at the change as your failure because it’s not. It’s a failure of leadership and you’re better off applying your skills to an organisation with a better group of leaders who support a healthy workplace behaviour.








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