Some adults never grow up, and bullying can happen in the workplace as much as in the playground. One worker begins to resent another one's success, spreads rumors about them, unites other workers against them, excludes them from decisions or hijacks their work — and it all goes downhill until you feel crushed, miserable, and utterly unwilling to face your job. But there are ways to get it solved without screaming, crying, or threatening to kill anybody. (Tempting though that may be.)
The Workplace Bullying Institute thinks that, in America, up to one third of all adult workers face some degree of bullying in the workplace. Which is just ridiculous. What are we, four? But apparently it's upsettingly common for employee jostling for position, favor, and promotion to turn into all-out Cold Wars. Some notoriously brutal industries may actively encourage it, and women attract more of it than men: for instance, Opportunity Now estimates that 50 percent of women in the finance industry face severe workplace bullying. Wolf Of Wall Street indeed.
What can you do if you're subjected to bullying in your workplace? October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so now's a good time to find out. Whether it's a job you love or a position you can take or leave, there are steps to make this better — and to keep you sane and employed.
1. Learn About Bullying's Many Different Forms
Being given a schedule you don't like isn't necessarily bullying. Neither is being politely called out when you made a mistake. Having your requests for leave ignored, being contacted outside of work hours, being humiliated in front of customers, clients, or other workers, being denied training, having your personal belongings intentionally damaged, or just encountering weird passive-aggressive resistance at every turn? That's bullying.
If you feel like you're being bullied but can't quite identify or list the behaviors, check out a comprehensive list over at BullyOnline, a nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of bullying throughout life. Isolation, overloading, being given unreasonable tasks: it can all count.
Some people will be well-meaning at heart, and not realize that their "fixing" of every piece of your work, or insistence on talking over you at meetings, is actually hurtful. These people can be dealt with gently, and will likely apologize and change. It's the intentional bullying entrenched in a workplace that gets really upsetting.
2. Know The Law
Workplace bullying of any kind is unacceptable. You are being paid to do your job, and to do it in psychological security and peace. If you work in a stressful environment, like a hospital, tempers will probably flare and isolated shouting instances will happen, but bullying itself — sustained, targeted mistreatment of a particular individual — can't be excused by those circumstances. In fact, high stress means it's even more important to stick together and work well as a team.
The law of the land can help you here — or, rather, the law of the state. Depending on where you live, you may have the Healthy Workplace Bill enshrined in law, and some bullying comes in under the classification of "harassment," which you're protected against in every state. Go do your legal research, and figure out exactly what your specific rights are.
3. Confront With Grace
Do not get down to a snickering bully's level. If you're going to ask what their problem is — in better words, of course — be prepared to back it up with times, instances, and as much evidence as possible, and go in simply seeking an explanation rather than spoiling for a fight. Being calm and inquisitive rather than angry may keep the interaction on a respectful level. And never, never resort to name-calling; always be the professional one in these exchanges.
If possible, do the confrontation in person in front of witnesses who are on your side, in the work environment. If not, do it via email, possibly with other, relevant people cc'd in. Be in control of your questions and the situation in which you ask them, and even if the answer is just more bullying (and it might be), you'll be less likely to be overthrown by what ensues.
4. Go To The Correct Place To Complain
Just as you should know the law, you should also know the correct procedures for dealing with workplace conflict at your particular company (yes, this counts as conflict). Get a copy of the rules: you may need to go to HR first or your supervisor, or draft a letter to corporate about your treatment. Doing things by the book, at least at first, makes you irreproachable.
If doing things by the book doesn't work — and keep records of every conversation, every email, every visit you have, and what was said in them — take more drastic action. Consider legal advice, or another body who may be able to offer unbiased help. Never be afraid to be a snitch or cause trouble by complaining. It may make things better — even if just for a while.
5. Don't Let It Escalate
There are good reasons to complain and complain quickly. Just gritting your teeth through bad treatment may seem better for general harmony in the workplace, but it may also simply lower the barriers for further harassing behavior. Dealing with a specific issue is a lot easier than going to a boss with a whole host of complaints about a coworker; people like small-scale problem solving, and it may nip stuff in the bud before it gets a chance to develop.
Be assertive. These are your rights and you're absolutely allowed to defend them.
6. Admit What You're Going Through To Loved Ones
Bullying hurts. It hurts when you're a kid and it hurts when you're an adult. And in your workplace, probably the place where you spend the largest quantity of your waking time, it's going to come to dominate your life. Don't be ashamed or afraid to share what's happening to you with loved ones who can offer support.
There's a weird perception that we "grow out" of bullying, and that people who complain of it in later life are somehow infantile for feeling so subjectively upset. Obviously, as anybody who's ever been behind a rude and abrasive customer at a supermarket checkout will know, some people never do. Bullying is hard on the body and soul, and you'll need support to get through the procedures of complaining and clearing the air: reach out for help.
7. Take Care Of Yourself
Be like a snail going back into his shell. Leave yourself as invulnerable to the person in question as possible while leading a normal life. Go to therapy to remind you of your self-worth, which is, ultimately, what's being eroded by this experience. Fighting back will leave you vulnerable and exhausted, so be prepared to take recuperative time after each bout. (There will likely be several.)
Be aware of your own reactions and mood, and see a doctor if you sense yourself dipping into depression or panic attacks. Don't underestimate the effect this may have on your life: a poisonous element based on destroying self-confidence can ripple out into everything. It will happen, so try to be aware of it and see why you may feel a bit socially isolated or worried for a while.
Ultimately, if winning the right to your own self-worth and safety at work means leaving your workplace, you need to have the courage to take that step. But you deserve to take it.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Giphy