Bullying in the Workplace – It’s not just for children anymore

Bullying is not always limited to children. It occurs among adults as well. There are definitely situations in which the bullying is physical, but it is often psychological or social in the non-child world. Workplace bullying is the most common bullying complaint I hear from adult clients. An additional difficulty can be the struggle to prove workplace bullying is occurring. Workplace bullying includes:

  • Being omitted from workplace related social events
  • Others leaving the room when you enter
  • Skipping or arriving late to a meeting you schedule
  • Ignoring or giving the silent treatment
  • Refusing to acknowledge good work
  • Being treated rudely or disrespectfully
  • Refusing to help when asked
  • Spreading rumors or lies
  • Yelling, shouting or being confrontational
  • Lying
  • Ignoring phone calls or emails
  • Mean pranks
  • Greater workload than others
  • Denying raise or promotion without reason

Examples of workplace bullying:

A client informed me her boss regularly yelled at her in front of the other staff. She called her stupid, incompetent and untrainable. My client’s perception was that she was assigned nearly double the workload of her coworkers and was harassed when it was not completed.

Another client reported there was a “clique” of coworkers who ostracized her. They laughed and poked jokes at her whenever she shared at a work meeting. They would delay their responses to her work-related emails and often “forgot” to get needed information to her. Her bosses either did not notice or did not care about this behavior.

A male client shared that his female boss would often flick him in the head when upset with him. She would laugh at him when he asked her to stop and would ask him what he was going to do about it. She was significantly smaller than he was, but had the power in their relationship.

If you are experiencing workplace bullying, what can you do about it?

  • Acknowledge the abuse:It is abuse, and you are being abused. Acknowledge that you are being bullied. Often the first step is to find your worth and take the first step of acknowledging your situation. You deserve better, so let go of denial, anger, and excuses for the bully’s behavior.
  • Assess the relationship:Is this a person you must be around? What do you get out of the relationship? One easy way to stop bullying behavior is to no longer be around the bully. It is also worth thinking about what you want out of this relationship, so that you can articulate that later.
  • Decide you will take action:Once you have acknowledged the abuse and you have assessed your relationship with the bully, you can decide that you want to take action or not. You know what your life will be like if you take no action – you are being bullied and that likely will not change. Deciding to take action gives you a sense of empowerment that has been stripped by the bully.
  • Document the abuse:It is critically important that you document instances of bullying and abuse. What was said or done? When? Who was there (witnesses)? What happened? How did you feel? These are important questions that will not only help you see the severity of your situation, but give you some leverage should you consider legal options to stop the abuse.
  • Set boundaries:This is possibly the hardest step. Figuring out what you want is half the battle. The other half is to articulate what you need and what you want, to your bully. Setting boundaries can be an expectation of how you want to be treated, where and when you will be in contact with the bully. It is critical that you stick to your boundaries.
  • Confrontation:Confrontation is the final step in managing a bully. This is when you articulate your needs and expectations, establishing those boundaries. Take someone with you who you trust, to back you up and provide moral support.
  • Address the difficulty directly. This can feel scary, but calmly approach your bully to clarify the situation. Sometimes simply calling attention to the dynamic can cause the bully to back off
  • Discuss it with your boss or HR if you cannot resolve it yourself. Stay calm and rational as you explain what has been happening. Specifically address any negative impact on your job performance.
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