SHOW DATE: May 8, 2013
Several recent articles suggest that there has been an alarming increase in workplace bullying over the past decade. A whopping 35% of Americans report being bullied at work. And 64% of people who experience workplace bullying lose or quit their jobs.
But are you being bullied? Even if your first instinct is to say “no,” it’s very possible that you are experiencing workplace bullying and don’t even know it—because you don’t really know what it is! So let’s define it for you right now: Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence. It’s an intentional campaign of personal destruction carried out by another person (or people) towards you. In other words, it is emotional abuse…and it frequently results in emotional harm.
Even if you have experienced some of the above behavior, chances are you think you can cope with it. That’s because you’ve been raised to believe that it’s OK to get yelled at and demeaned as long as you get paid at the end of the day. But that’s simply not the case. You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and the right to be fulfilled by your job. You won’t love your career every day, but if your job haunts you and destroys your sense of self-worth, you need to do something about it.
The action you take depends on the nature of the person who is bullying you. There are three different types of bullies, and each requires a different action:
1. Some bullies are merely insecure. These people bring you down because they are worried that you’ll outshine them. With people like this, you can often change your behavior to improve the situation (i.e., play to their egos, laud them publicly, become an ally, etc). While this might be a bitter pill to swallow at first, you can often transform an insecure person into a confident one over time.
2. Some bullies are just really bad managers. They’re not actually out to get you, they just don’t know how to manage people. If this is the case, you can work with HR to fix the issue.
3. Some people are simply mean and bully you for sport. If this is the case, you have to leave your job. You simply can’t work with or for this person.
It’s also important to determine something else: what is your responsibility in this matter? Many bullied employees stay in detrimental situations for the same reason victims of domestic abuse stay in marriages: they feel responsible to the well-being of the “family”. While this thinking is understandable, it is not acceptable. Your primary responsibility is to your own health and well-being. Don’t worry that you are “abandoning” your co-workers or clients; as great as you are, they can and will survive without you. It’s your own survival you need to be most concerned with.
Finally, if you decide that going to HR is the best path for you, make sure you follow these steps first:
- Find an ally. If you go to HR alone, it’s your word against the bully’s. If you know that others feel bullied, form an allegiance. Your case will be much more powerful if others can corroborate the behavior.
- Document the behavior. Begin writing down the offensive incidents when they occur. Just a brief paragraph explaining what happened, with the date. You may end up submitting these to HR, or you may only use them as notes when you approach HR. Either way, it’s important that you have specific incidents that you can refer to; otherwise, you risk sounding vague, which will not help your case.
- Finally, when you go to HR, make a business case. Don’t make a personal case (“my boss isn’t fair,” “he doesn’t deserve his job”). Instead, explain how the bully is bad for the business. Explain how the bully’s behavior has resulted in low morale, loss of productivity, increased turnover, dissatisfied clients, or a greater risk of the company getting sued, etc. Personal beefs sound like whining; a business case will show that you are the team player and belong at the job more than the bully.
Workplace bullying is a serious problem and a very difficult situation to navigate. But if you follow the above advice and keep your own needs in mind, you will be able to make it through.