How to Recognize Workplace Bullying

As adults, we often believe that we have left bullying on the playground and at school. Unfortunately, some adults never outgrow this bad behavior and workplace bullying is a real thing.

Children who are bullied tend to have trouble in school and in their personal lives and the same goes for adults. It’s rude and hurtful and affects our self-esteem, performance, and relationship with others.

A 2019 survey discovered that nearly 94% out of 2081 employees said they had been bullied in the workplace. That’s a huge increase (19%) in the last eleven years. Over half (51.1%) in the survey said they were bullied by a boss or manager. The ways the respondents said they were bullied were:

  • aggressive email tones (23.3%)
  • coworkers’ negative gossip (20.2%)
  • someone yelling at them (17.8%)

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, more than 60 million working people in the United States are affected by bullying.

Clearly, workplace bullying is a problem.  If you’re experiencing workplace bullying or know someone who is, what can you do about it? First, let’s define what workplace bullying is or could be.

What is workplace bullying?

According to Workplace bullying is harmful, targeted behavior that happens at work. It might be spiteful, offensive, mocking or intimidating. It forms a pattern, and it tends to be directed at one person or a few people. A few examples of bullying include:

  • targeted practical jokes
  • being purposely misled about work duties, like incorrect deadlines or unclear directions
  • continued denial of requests for time off without an appropriate or valid reason
  • threats, humiliation, and other verbal abuse
  • excessive performance monitoring
  • overly harsh or unjust criticism
  • exclusion

If a bully is allowed to continue her or his behavior without being stopped, it can seriously damage company culture and morale. Here are a few possible results:

  • Frequent absenteeism
  • Presenteeism (like absenteeism in that the employee is not fully “there”)
  • Toxic company culture
  • High turnover
  • Poor reputation

Early warning signs of bullying can vary but often include:

  • Co-workers might become quiet or leave the room when you walk in, or they might simply ignore you.
  • You might be left out of office culture, such as chitchat, parties, or team lunches.
  • Your supervisor or manager might check on you often or ask you to meet multiple times a week without a clear reason.
  • You may be asked to do new tasks or tasks outside your typical duties without training or help, even when you request it.
  • It may seem like your work is frequently monitored, to the point where you begin to doubt yourself and have difficulty with your regular tasks.
  • You might be asked to do difficult or seemingly pointless tasks and be ridiculed or criticized when you can’t get them done.
  • You may notice a pattern of your documents, files, other work-related items, or personal belongings going missing.

10 Ways to Handle Workplace Bullying

1. Confront your bully. The best way is to address it the first time it happens and explain how the person’s behavior makes you feel. “I feel hurt when you tease me. Please stop.”

2. Document everything. Write everything down, including the first encounter, when and where it happened, what the bully did and said, and what you did and said. Note any witnesses.

3. Review Policies. Research your company’s policy on bullying and refer to anti-discrimination and harassment laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

4. Report it. Talk to your immediate manager or supervisor about what’s going on. If he or she is the one creating the problem, go to HR. Come ready with your documentation.

5. Get support. If any of your coworkers have experienced something similar or have witnessed workplace bullying, talk to them and encourage them to speak out, or at least support you in your claims.

6. Get counseling. If you feel you need additional professional help, seek counseling sooner than later.

7. Find joy. Don’t ignore what is going on, but find ways to focus on things you love doing, at work and at home. Try not to let the bullying dominate every aspect of your life as you work toward a resolution.

8. Define a resolution. Document what your ideal resolution is.  Define how you or someone else can make it happen.

9. Leave. Sometimes enough is enough.

10. Consider legal action if needed. You may need to consult with an employment attorney to determine whether you have a case. Unfortunately, there are no laws against workplace bullying in the U.S., so legal action isn’t always possible.

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