You might have thought that most people leave bullying on the school playground, but research shows that bullying behavior can absolutely continue into adulthood. Even though we're supposed to be grown adults who can sort out our differences peacefully, 75 percent of people have been affected by workplace bullying, according to one study. Workplace bullying is exactly what it sounds like — behavior that seeks to intimidate or harass a coworker, according to Forbes, and it can be hugely detrimental to not only your work performance, but also your health overall. If you feel like you're being bullied at work, it's important to know what to do.
"Workplace bullying unfortunately happens, but there are several ways to deal with it," Georgene Huang, the CEO of Fairygodboss, a community for women to share their experiences of their workplaces, tells Bustle. Technically, the Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) defines workplace bullying as "offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour [sic], an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient", but, Huang explains, that's only a guideline. "'Bullying' is not a legal term that offers any protection," she tells Bustle, "so you have to figure out whether you have a legal situation on your hands or simply a rude and unfriendly colleague." How you move forward depends on how you classify what's happening to you or those around you.
The first thing to do, if you suspect you're being bullied at work, is to document the interaction. Save copies of emails, text messages, or other communication to a file that you can access at work and outside of work (i.e., not just on your office email). Ask your coworkers if they witnessed a particular interaction that made you or others uncomfortable, if you're comfortable doing so.
Then, assess the nature of the bullying. "If the bully is creating a hostile work environment or discriminating against you under a category that may be legally protected, then it may be time to address it with your HR department, provide documentation, and follow your company's protocol," Huang says. Sexual harassment falls under this category, as do remarks about one's pregnancy, or getting time off for religious holidays. If the bullying doesn't fall under a category that could be considered discrimination, but is still "preventing you from getting your work done," the next step will still be going to your manager or straight to HR with your documentation.
If you think your coworker is simply being rude or inconsiderate, it may be worth simply having a face to face interaction to address the issue directly, Huang says. "Let them know in a direct but calm conversation how their treatment is affecting you," she says. "It may not be intentional, so a conversation could go a long way in preventing the behavior. And if that fails, talk to their manager and/or your manager about it." Record that you've had the conversation and what was said, in case it's needed in the future. This may be difficult if the coworker is your boss or otherwise senior to you, or if you don't feel safe doing so; if so, it can be helpful to go to another senior colleague to ask their advice, given the workplace culture, and if they could potentially be in the room when you have this discussion.
Ultimately, it's important to remember the same lessons from elementary school; bullies are just going to be bullies. "This one is easier said than done," Huang tells Bustle, "but try as hard as you can to not take the bullying personally. You are a professional and were hired to be there, so don't let someone constantly talking over you or accusing your of making errors get you down." Seek outside support if you need it, and make sure you're getting the care you need to get through what can be a pretty distressing situation.