How to Deal With a Bully in the Workplace
When you think about bullying, thoughts of schoolyard bullying among children may come to mind. However, bullying is very real and unfortunately commonplace between adults as well. As an adult, you typically have greater options to walk away from bullying situations, but this is not always the case. For example, when you are bullied in the workplace, you may feel as though you need to endure the bullying for the sake of a paycheck.
What Is Bullying?
Bullying is defined as someone aggressively dominating, intimidating or using physical force against another person to intimidate or to control. While physical violence in the workplace through bullying is rare, intimidation and verbal abuse are more commonplace than many would like to believe. Bear in mind that this is not a typical disagreement or workplace conflict between two people, and it generally is not isolated to a single instance. Instead, there is a series of incidents over the course of a long period of time where the bully uses threats or intimidation against the victim. Bullying at work can create a toxic workplace environment for you to spend time in. You may find that you dread going into work each day, and your quality of work may even suffer as a result. When this happens, your career opportunities may be limited by the bullying situation. Clearly, you want to take action to improve your workplace climate.
When Bullying Is Done Secretively
A bully often will intimidate or control a victim in the workplace in a covert way so that he flies under the radar of upper management. Typically, a bully needs leverage to intimidate or otherwise be forceful with a victim, but some victims give their bully power even without any leverage in place. If you feel that you are being bullied in your workplace, consider what leverage your bully has over you. Is there a threat that he or she will expose wrongdoing on your part? Does your bully have something else to hang over your head? If there is no leverage, consider simply ignoring the bully. If there is leverage, consider documenting the bully’s words and actions as much as possible to build a case against him or her. This may include saving emails or even secretly recording conversations between you and the bully. This documentation can then be provided to your HR department or manager for further investigation.
When Bullying Is Openly Accepted in the Workplace
While many offices do not tolerate bullying in any form, others may openly accept it. This may be because the manager is the bully or because management does not want to deal with the problem. In some cases, management may not view bullying as a problem. An example of bullying at work in the open is when one or more people intentionally make a workplace meeting hostile through their use of threats and intimidation. This is often done while management is present, and management’s failure to act on the problem essentially serves as permission for the bully to continue his or her actions. This type of bullying can be difficult to combat because it often involves opening your manager’s eyes to the fact that the bully’s actions are creating a toxic workplace environment. In some cases, the victim has no choice but to leave the environment and seek employment elsewhere.
When Your Boss Is the Bully
While some bullies at work may be your equals on the corporate totem pole, others may be your boss or a higher up. An example of this type of bullying may be when a boss tells workers that they need to work over the weekend even when this is not included as part of their regular work responsibilities or they will be fired. The threat of termination or a dock in pay is common in this type of situation because this is the primary leverage that a boss has over the heads of employees. Keep in mind that termination is always a legitimate option when you fail to get your job done in a satisfactory way, so ensure that your boss is truly bullying you rather than standing his ground as your manager before you take action.
What You Can Do
When it comes to dealing with bullies at the office, you have a few choices available. Perhaps the cleanest way out of the situation is to leave the environment. Find a new job elsewhere, and start clean in a less toxic workplace. Leaving the workplace, however, is not always feasible. For example, you may need the income or the benefits, and you may have had no luck finding employment elsewhere despite your best efforts. If you are dealing with this type of situation, your only options are to deal with the bully. You can choose to confront the bully head on or to take your case to the manager.
Identify How You May be Enabling the Bully
When your bully is a co-worker rather than a boss, the victim typically is enabling the behavior in some way. This by no means that you are to blame for being a victim, but it does give you some power to stop the bullying process. Take a closer look at the relationship between you and the bully, and consider what you may be doing to give power to the bully. In some cases, this can be difficult for the victim to identify because of how close you are to the situation. If you are unable to identify how you may be enabling the bully, consider seeking professional therapy or even taking to an unbiased friend about the situation. Talking about the problem may give you the clarity that comes from a third party’s perspective. When you have identified how you may be enabling the bully, you can then take action to adjust your behavior and to stop the enabling process.
Research the Complaint Procedures in Your Workplace
In many instances, the victim is able to stop the bully in his tracks by disrupting the nature of the relationship between the victim and the bully. However, if you have tried this option and have not been successful in this step, your next step is to take the matter to your HR department or your manager. Read through your employee handbook to determine if there is currently a company policy about bullying. Confirm that your situation complies with the company’s definition of bullying in the handbook. Whether your company has an anti-bullying policy or not, there is a good chance that the company does have specific complaint procedures. This may include the need to verify the validity of your complaint with documentation, who to contact initially to file a complaint and when to escalate the matter to upper management.
Have an Open Conversation with Your Manager
Filing a formal complaint with HR or your manager is one option to consider, but you may want to keep the matter more close at hand. After all, the matter may be able to be resolved quietly without making a big fuss about it. If this is your intention, having a quiet conversation with your manager may be effective. Consider taking your manager to lunch one afternoon to discuss your concerns in a private environment. If this is not possible, schedule a meeting with your manager. Keep in mind that this meeting may take an hour or longer in some cases. You should not surprise or ambush your manager with an unannounced or unscheduled meeting. When you schedule a meeting, you will have dedicated time to fully discuss the matter without interruptions.
Whether you file a formal complaint with your HR department or you choose to handle the matter more quietly, you will need to document your grievances. It can take several weeks or longer to pull together enough evidence against your bully to make a strong case, so be patient as you take time to gather the evidence you need. Most of your evidence may be in writing, such as in emails and inter-office chat logs. If the bullying is done verbally, however, you may need to take more significant steps to get documentation. For example, you may need to invest in equipment to secretly record video, audio or both of the bully in action. This can be expensive, so you may want to ensure that combating the bully rather than leaving the workplace is truly in your best interest.
Suggest an Anti-Bullying Campaign at Work
Many workplaces have adopted anti-bullying efforts, but your office may not be one of them. This may include special training to identify, respond to or prevent bullying at work. Training may help you, your co-workers and your managers to better determine if a specific action can be considered bullying. Policies for reprimanding bullying may be implemented as well. Keep in mind that these policies are critical to having an effective anti-bullying campaign. After all, without proper and stringent consequences that bullies may face, their efforts against you may continue.
Remember That Workplace Bullying Is Not Illegal (In Most Cases)
Bullying among children is illegal in many areas, but unfortunately, bullying in the workplace is not illegal in most cases. It may be against company policy if your company has included verbiage about it in your handbook. However, simply being aggressive or threatening to take certain actions against another party is not illegal, unless there is a threat of physical violence. The other exception here is when a manager is the bully and he has violated labor laws as a result of his actions. This may be more similar to discrimination in the workplace. If your workplace climate is unpleasant because of bullying and if you feel your boss as crossed a legal line, you can reach out to a labor attorney to explore your options. In some cases, a criminal or civil lawsuit may be in order.
If You Choose to Leave the Workplace
In an ideal world, you may confront your bully, and he or she may either be asked to leave or be terminated. However, in a real world work environment, HR must also take certain steps before legally firing an employee, and this means that you may need to endure weeks or months of bullying before you benefit from any relief from the situation. The easier route when dealing with bullies at work is to find a new job in a company where bullying is not permitted. It can take several weeks or longer to find a new job, but your time and effort spent on this task may be well-rewarded. If you decide to look for a new job, you can get started doing this today, but keep your quest to find a new position hidden from others in your workplace.
If you are unhappy with your workplace climate because of bullies at the office, you may feel generally unhappy with life. This is because discontentment in one area of your life can easily carry over into other areas. While you may be miserable at work, you may also find that you are unhappy at home and with family and friends as a result. Clearly, something needs to be done about bullying at your office. There is no single best way for all workers to handle bullying. Instead, take time to analyze your situation and to determine a thoughtful plan for how to best proceed.
Having a system in place that allows your staff to give you feedback about this and many other aspects of your company can really help improve their engagement, happiness, productivity and loyalty.