6 Steps for dealing with workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is malicious, persistent and far more subtle than it’s childhood counterpart. In 2015 it was estimated that up to one-third of employees were victims of workplace bullying and 20% of workers were leaving their jobs because of it. The effects of workplace bullying are detrimental to your mental and physical health. If you feel a deep physical sense of dread on a Sunday night that leads to nausea and vomiting, then you are probably a victim of workplace bullying. Victims are more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease, sleep loss, weight gain, anxiety, depression and a plethora of stress-related illnesses. It’s no wonder so many people leave their jobs because of it. Luckily for you there are other options. Here are the 6 steps for dealing with your workplace bully.


1. Don’t let your bully break you down

When you are the victim of bullying it can be hard to rally together your self-esteem, as that is exactly the part of you that is being targeted day in and day out. No matter how confident (read obnoxious) your aggressor may seem, their bullying comes from a place of deep-rooted fear and low self-esteem. They also tend to target people they see as potential threats. If you are a good worker, new to the office or have some quality or skill they are envious of, you are more likely to be a target of bullying. You can take small comfort in the fact that you are special enough to be worthy of their attention. Pull together your confidence, it’s time to take action.


2. Deal with workplace abuse directly

Man standing as a train passes behind him
Workplace bullying

The next step is to directly confront your bully. Be mindful to not appear too emotional or sensitive as bullies feed off these reactions.


If the bully is a colleague

Confront your colleague directly, if they are spreading gossip about you or making snide comments pull them up on it. Go over to their desk and ask to speak with them privately. Then, remaining very calm, question what it has to do with their role and ask them to be more professional in the future.


If the bully is your boss

If the bully is your boss giving you a hard time about a small indiscretion that happened a while ago that is making you feel on edge and unable to perform your work let them know. Best-case scenario, they come to realise that you are not the emotionally vulnerable victim they pegged you for and stop bugging you, worst-case scenario they blow up and get more aggressive and harass you for questioning their authority. If this is the reaction, follow up what they said with an email – keep it in writing and send it to them, expressing your disappointment. If your bully takes the low road, then its time for you to arm yourself with a solid email chain and eyewitness accounts.


3. Take it to the top

Man contemplating
Workplace bullying

Now that you have directly spoken to your bully and the bullying continues it is time to speak to HR, or their superior. Present them the written information, eyewitness accounts and any other information you have on the issue. Chances are you are not their first victim, and this incriminating display can help push them towards a meeting or a review. Businesses are beginning to understand the economic and engagement cost of toxic employees. Have a look at some of the statistic from Harvard Business Review about the cost of workplace incivility:

  • 47% of workers intentionally decreased the time spent at work
  • 80% lost work tie worrying about the incident
  • 66% said their performance declined
  • 78% said their commitment to the organisation declined
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers


4. Help fellow employees who are experiencing workplace bullying

While you may not be the victim it can be frightening to speak up when you see incidents of bullying in your office. The best thing you can do is offer to be a friend. Go for coffee or lunch and listen to their experience. You should encourage them to report their bully – it’s much better if it comes from them than you, or if they are too timid you can report it yourself. Some workplaces have bullying and uncivil behaviour built into their foundations. It can be hard to stay positive in these conditions. At this point it is up to you to decide whether going into a toxic workplace everyday is worth it, or if you can find something better somewhere else. You do not want a negative culture to affect your happiness and wellbeing.


5. Avoid gossip at all costs

Gossip is the toxic gas that leaks through your organisation. Stand up for those whose reputation is being trashed, and if someone looks like they are about to tell you something that they shouldn’t stop them in their tracks. It takes a brave, assured, true leader to make the gossiper realise the error of their ways.


6. How to nip workplace bullying in the bud as a team leader

If you witness bullying amongst your team, you have the opportunity to stop it in its tracks as a leader. Bullies tend to target the best and brightest so it’s in your best interest to sort them out as soon as possible before you lose all of your talent. Make a file and document incidents of abuse with details, dates and times. Take it to HR and push for a meeting with the bully and HR to talk about how you will proceed forwards. Some people are toxic and simply cannot play nice with others. Don’t hesitate to get rid of them – according to a senior executive in a highly successful company “Every mistake we’ve made in firing a questionable hire was in taking action too late, not too early.”


Don’t sweep mental abuse under the rug

Lady with a sparker
Lady with a sparker

If you are being bullied, realise that you are not alone and that it is not a reflection on you as a person or an employee. You are not weak because someone choses to make you feel that way. As a leader you have the potential to turn things around and engage in some valuable team building activities to encourage the true meaning of teamwork. We recommend avoiding competitive activities and encouraging team members to work together to reach a common goal. If you would like to plan a team building activity for your team that has experienced bullying, then Contact Us and we will find one that will restore your team. As an employee who is being bullied, get help – talk to someone you trust or call Lifeline and take steps to stop the abuse. If you have reported your abuse and nothing has changed, then do not hesitate to leave! What’s the point of life if you can’t stand 5 out of 7 days? No amount of money is worth working for people who do not care about your wellbeing.


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