Workplace bullying. Image source: Pinterest

How to Handle Workplace Bullying

Remember when you were minding your own business at your work and somebody came along, and said or did something that ruined the rest of your day?

Was going through that salty remark a part of your job? Or just workplace bullying? Should you have suffered silently or spoken up? If it really was bullying, how did you move on with your life unaffected?

Let’s find answers. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to handle workplace bullying.

a man screaming at a woman, a metaphoric visual representation of workplace bullying
Image: Workplace Bullying

What is Workplace Bullying?

Although not defined in a hard and fast way, some behaviours are identified as workplace bullying. Bullying is using social or physical power to dominate in a manner that’s intimidating.

Workplace bullying is repetitive in nature, unreasonably directed towards someone who is perceived weaker. It’s often persistent and sometimes even gets worse over time.

According to Forbes, 61% of bullies are bosses who operate alone, 61% of employees know that bullying happens at their premises. And a fun coincidence is that 19% of the staff have experienced it and it’s been witnessed by another 19%. 29% of victims have chosen to remain silent. 65% of bullied employees lose their jobs. Last but not the least, 80% of women bully other women.

Types of Workplace Bullying

Every unpleasant thing happening at your workplace doesn’t qualify as ‘bullying’ but certainly, there are some which do. Bullying behaviors might be:

Type 1: Direct

Mostly verbal. Including humiliating, mocking, joking offensively, intimidation with threats etc.

Type 2: Indirect

Excluding socially, breaching privacy and activities that induce insecurity.

A boy & a girl criticising another boy, a metaphoric representation of workplace bullying
Image: Social exclusion is a form of bullying

Type 3: Sabotaging

Stealing ideas, taking credits, blaming wrongfully, interference while working  etc.

Type 4: Retaliation

The response that’s generated when you speak about being bullied. Like accusations of lying and all.

Type 5: Organisational

When the workplace itself is the reason for bullying, such as unrealistic goals, forced overtime, denied promotion etc.

Know When You Are a Target

Identify when you’re a victim of bullying. When you see any of the following:

Poeple pointing finger at a girl, a metaphoric representation of workplace bullying
Image: Are you a target?
  • practical jokes targeted to you
  • being purposely misdirected while working
  • humiliation because of your appearances
  • harsh criticism from people who are not entitled
  • malicious rumours or innuendo
  • social isolation
  • deliberate impediment
  • establishment of impossible deadline
  • pestering
  • using profanity
  • persistently remarks on produced work
  • belittling of opinions
  • tampering with personal belongings or work equipment

You may think of the occurances to be random, actually it may be so-mere coincidence. However, if they continue and affect your physical & mental being- you should know how to deal with these. Or, whether these are worth dealing at all.

Workplace Bullying Takes A Toll on Health

Bullying can pose some major effects on your physical and mental health. Therefore, you should know what it does to you and how to handle workplace bullying.

Physical Health Effects of Bullying

Your body evokes response when you’re facing hurdles. Therefore, you might feel dizzy and have digestive issues. Your temperature and blood pressure may  fluctuate. Your entire body clock could be in jeopardy. Increased or decreased appetite and a constant headache may be your constant companion.

Mental Health Effects of Bullying

Your psyche can suffer equally, if not more, when you face workplace bullying. Overthinking, anxiety, depression might hamper your work performance. It can lead to a vicious cycle of stress and poor performance if you don’t know how to handle workplace bullying. Loss of interest in activities, lowered self-esteem causes some to go through suicidal thoughts as well.

How to Handle Workplace Bullying: Fight or Flight?

A cartoon of a potato and an egg boiling, representing resilience
Image: Choose to respond right (Courtesy: Inkology Art)

Here’s an analogy you might be able to relate to. I saw it a few years ago and it stayed with me ever since. The secret of life is to react in an appropriate manner. Not to lose rationality. Well this seems generic but if kept in mind, this could go a long way.

Bullying is not about your abilities, it’s more about power and control.

First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re feeling powerless and victimised. It’s natural to feel a bit lost in these cases; especially if the blow comes out of the blue. So, allow yourself to absorb the fact that you’ve been targeted. Don’t go out looking for reasons because there might be none.

Secondly, evaluate its frequency and keep track. This is necessary for two reasons. If it’s not repetitive or directed- you’ll know. It’s very much possible that somebody might have had a bad day and vented on you. Well, that’s obviously not a good work ethic- nevertheless, it doesn’t equal bullying.

When you’re certain that one or more persons are bullying you, you can react in a composed manner. Take all the time you need before you react.

Before I state the options, here’s a video I believe might help you react better.

Video: How to stop a bully

Then if he or she’s a colleague, you might want to talk to understand where it’s rooted from. If it’s something you did wrong, you can politely ask if you could still correct it. Sometimes all you need is a straightforward conversation to sort out that bitterness.

However, if there seems to be no reason at all, then you gotta be firm at your stand. Review the work policies and understand how much you can do legally. Report to your immediate boss or any superior that you trust to lend an ear to you.

Whatever that you choose to do in the end, always behave in a poised and professional manner. Otherwise, the effects can cause trauma and alter your personality. In conclusion, don’t let workplace bullying affect your confidence in the long term.

What If You Witness Bullying?

If you see it, you know it’s happening, and you don’t do anything, you are giving permission for this person to act that way with your silence.

Catherine Mattice Zundel

Be vocal if you see workplace bullying around yourself. It’s understandable that you don’t want yourself to become a target. However, by keeping mum, you’re only contributing to the rise of unfair practices in your work premises.

preaching good work ethic: Don't bully, be a friend
Image: Listen to your conscience

And by ‘being vocal’, we don’t mean that you endanger yourself as well. Be smart and act tactfully. If you see bullying happening before your eyes, try to respond to it smartly.

  • Try engaging the bully into small talk and distract him. This is how you could subtly show support to your co-worker that you want to protect.
  • Listen to your coworker. Sometimes people need a little encouragement to stand up for themselves. You could set that little flare ablaze.
  • If you have that position, you could even inform a superior that you trust. Be careful, choose the person wisely so that you don’t end up in trouble yourself.
  • If your colleague reports and seeks your help for affirmation, your testimony can help him out. Although, it’s your call to make.

Things that are NOT bullying

Every unpleasant encounter with a colleague is not bullying. Gauge these three things: WORDS, TONE & INTENTION

For instance, criticism about your work could be the expert monitoring you can follow as a guideline. No need to be offended at everything that is not a compliment. 

3 colleagues working in harmony and having different opinions
Image: Remain open to constructive criticisms

Some people like to identify their insensitivity and bluntness with “truthfulness”. I don’t believe it’s valid because you can speak the same truth with a different set of words. There’s always a way to communicate in a proper way.

Taking disciplinary action is not bullying, rather the opposite. It’s necessary to keep harmony within the organization. Training, directing, assessments fall under the same category as well. So, take time before reacting so that you don’t mix up the systems with bullying. Don’t be overly conscious.

At the same time, keep yourself open to positive conflicts, difference of opinion & diversity of people. 

Different people have different ways of expressing themselves, not everybody is eloquent. Try to understand whether they had ill intentions behind their act or not.

Trust Your Guts, It’s Your Call to Make

I had a mentor who said, “We all have a button that changes our mood. Be in charge of your own button, don’t let anybody else control it. Just because someone else was in a bad mood and found you to channel his frustration- don’t carry it around all day.”

Cartoon of a man being a monster with his subordinate girl: a form of workplace bullying
Image: Choose to be bold (Source: myonrecord)

Now that you know how to handle workplace bullying, always keep in mind that facing workplace bullying has nothing to do with who you are. Your ethnicity, your appearance, how you pronounce certain words should not matter in regard to how anybody should treat you.

If you go through workplace bullying, find a way to keep up boldly or find a way out.

S. Ariba Salam
When life gives me lemons, I make lemon cakes.