This week is Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, an opportunity to learn more about this serious issue and what you can do to help. Most of us would like to think we left bullies behind in middle school. However, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27 percent of adults report having experienced bullying in the workplace, and this number may actually be higher as many people are hesitant to report incidents of bullying. In order to put an end to this behavior, it’s important to be able to identify bullying and know what to do if it happens, whether you are a victim or a witness.
What is workplace bullying?
Workplace bullying is a form of harassment and can include both verbal and nonverbal behavior that is threatening, humiliating and intimidating. Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Frequently criticizing your work, despite excellent performance
- Spreading hateful gossip about you, or purposely humiliating you in front of others
- Constantly changing guidelines, deadlines or scheduled meetings at the last minute
- Isolating you socially in the workplace, such as leaving you out of group events
- Disturbing or tampering with your personal items
- Intimidating or threatening behavior
And bullying doesn’t just happen face-to-face; cyber-bullying can also take place online via social media or email.
Any behavior that makes you feel consistently mistreated, harassed or embarrassed by a co-worker or supervisor is considered bullying and should not be tolerated.
What should you do if you’re a target of a bully?
First, check your workplace handbook for any policy on bullying. It may list a contact person and procedure to report incidents of bullying. If not, reach out to your manager, HR or union representative, or other appropriate person to discuss the best way to proceed.
If you feel comfortable doing so, calmly confront the person who is bullying you. Let them know their behavior is unacceptable and it must stop immediately. It may help to have a manager or representative from HR join you. Hopefully, the person will realize the impact of their actions and stop, but if not, there are other steps you can take.
If you’d prefer not to approach the person directly or need to explore alternative routes after confronting them, work with the appropriate contact within your organization to determine next steps. It is important to have written records of the bullying to support your complaint, including detailed accounts of each incident and correspondence you received from the perpetrator. This information, along with your written report, will help your employer properly investigate the situation and take appropriate action.
Once you’ve submitted a formal complaint, your employer should investigate your complaint and make changes to address the situation. However, if you do not feel your employer has adequately done this, you have a few choices. You can take the matter further up the chain, hire an attorney if needed or choose to look for a new position. If you have access to an Employee Assistance Program through your employer, a counselor can provide confidential help to walk you through your options and determine the best path forward for you.
What should you do if you witness bullying in the workplace?
Bystander intervention is critical to stopping the cycle of workplace bullying. Many victims are ashamed or hesitant to step forward, so if you see something that you believe is bullying, you have a responsibility to take action. Watching bullying continue to take place and doing nothing only enables the bully to keep harassing his target.
As stated above, check your employee handbook for a policy and procedure on reporting incidents of bullying. You may not feel prepared or comfortable confronting the bully directly, but your employer may have a process to submit complaints anonymously. If not, consider reaching out to your HR department anyway to let them know what you witnessed so they can move ahead as needed to protect you and your colleagues from bullying.
Workplace bullying is a serious issue, but by understanding what to look for and how to take action, it’s possible to work together to put a stop to this behavior.
For Health Advocate Members
If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to the EAP+Work/Life program, one of our Licensed Professional Counselors can provide support and resources if you are being targeted by a bully in the workplace.