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Workplace Bullying, and How to Deal With It

Workplace Bullying, and How to Deal With It on

Document, report, and confront – or leave

Workplace harassment and bullying became one of the hot-button issues of 2017, and this year will no doubt bring even more attention to the subject. From verbal abuse to sabotage and even sexual harassment, it’s important to know how to deal with it.

The facts and prevalence of workplace bullying and harassment

According to US News and World Report, “Office bullying is defined as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment” that involves verbal abuse, work sabotage and/or humiliation and intimidation, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, a research, and advocacy organization.”

Other statistics according to the same study:

  • 4 million Americans are affected by workplace bullying
  • 19% of Americans are bullied, another 19% witness it
  • 61% of Americans are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace
  • 70% of perpetrators are men; 60% of targets are women
  • 40% of bullies are bosses
  • 40% of bullied targets are believed to suffer adverse health effects
  • 29% of targets remain silent about their experience

Signs of workplace bullying

Aggressive, abusive and bullying behavior is more serious and enduring than the mere incivility of an occasional rude remark from a co-worker. Types of bullying include:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual harassment
  • Threats
  • Humiliation
  • Gaslighting
  • Ostracism or isolation
  • Withholding resources or information
  • Intimidation
  • Sabotage
  • Reputation damage due to rumors
  • Unfairly negative evaluation of work

How to handle workplace bullying

Confront the person directly

Start by telling the person exactly that you view their behavior as bullying. Be specific and try not to use phrases like “you’re mean” or “you don’t respect me.” Instead, say, “You disparage my ideas in front of everyone.” Or “You’re in my personal space trying to read personal correspondence.”

Tell the person point blank why the behavior is upsetting to you and that you expect it to stop. It might be frightening to confront the bully, but many times this can cause the person to back down.

Document the bully’s action.

“Anytime you are feeling bullied or experiencing bullying behavior, document the date, time and details of the incident. Note if another employee witnessed the incident. If you eventually seek help from Human Resources, documentation, especially documentation of the bully’s impact on your business results and success, gives HR information to work with on your behalf,” according to The Balance.

Note: If the bullying occurs in emails, make sure to keep hard copies of each correspondence.

Find out if other co-workers are being treated the same way.

Bullies often have more than one victim, so chances are you are not the only person being targeted in the office. Notice if incidents also happen to other co-workers. If others have experienced the same behavior, it will give you a stronger case when you talk to the HR department or manager.

Go to HR or management.

If you’ve tried telling the bully to stop with no change, it might be time to report his or her behavior to Human Resources or a manager.

“Go to HR or your manager with your evidence, especially the evidence that demonstrates the impact of the bully on the business, and files a formal complaint. Most employee handbooks describe the HR investigation process that your complaint sets in motion,” according to The Balance.

One note of caution before choosing the HR department to lodge your harassment complaint…

According to US News and World Report, “Human resources departments are first and foremost loyal to the employer, so they may not be the best place to take workplace bullying grievances, especially if the bully has a lot of power within the organization or performs at a high level. The department may chalk bullying up to ‘personality differences’ rather than ‘an abuse of power.’”

You might be better off going to a senior manager or director. When you do speak to a manager, couch the comments in terms of how it is affecting the workplace environment and productivity, which could end up costing the company money. If the bullying continues unchecked, it could lead to high employee turnover, reduced productivity, lost revenue, absenteeism, and even legal fees if someone decides to sue.

Find another job.

While the subject of workplace bullying and harassment is getting much-needed attention, many firms are slow to direct changes that make reporting such incidents easier. In many cases, making a claim does little to alleviate the problem, especially if the bully is your boss or another senior manager with a lot of authority and influence.

If you’ve reported the conduct and nothing happens, it might be time to look elsewhere for a job. Though our sense of justice says it’s wrong that you have to suffer because of a workplace bully, your mental and physical health is more important than your principles. “If it’s reached the point where your self-confidence is being shattered, that’s not a healthy place to be. Sometimes it’s easier to cut your losses and find a better work situation. The exit strategy is sometimes the one that’s the smartest,” according to US News and World Report.

Workplace harassment is a new “old” subject and one many of us have dealt with before. These tips may help you resolve the issue so the workplace is a safer, healthier environment for you.

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