How to Spot and Stop Workplace Bullying
Have you ever been a victim of workplace bullying? Or, has workplace bullying been plaguing your workplace for a long time?
What actually is workplace bullying? Who are the workplace bullies? What do they do? What are their characteristics?
A workplace bully is nothing more than a madcap who only knows how to speak aggressively. He yells at others rather than speaking in a natural voice.
He stomps without stopping and considers himself the king of insulting others.
Then there is another type of workplace bully.
A person who smiles on your face, but subtly disregards or rejects everything you do.
In most cases, he can be both at the same time.
Reachout.com Australia has made an informative video regarding who a workplace bully is.
THE CURSE OF WORKPLACE BULLYING
Workplace bullying is still one of the most common problems in organizations across the world, including the so-called first world countries.
According to a report by TUC, women are at greater risk of bullying at work than men.
The report also stated that nearly one-third of employees are the victim of some kind of bullying in the United State.
Some organizations fail to take proactive action against the bullies at work, inadvertently perpetuating the bullying culture in their workplace.
Most people think they have left their bullying days behind when they graduate from high school.
However, it is one thing you cannot put behind or get rid of when you become an adult. Majority of offices have bullies that can make your life a nightmare.
As a matter of fact, they are more common than you may expect.
In one of the surveys conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 19% of the adults said they have seen someone being bullied at work while other 19% of adult said they have personally experienced bullying in their workplace.
Have a look at the following chart taken from the above-mentioned study by the Workplace Bullying Institute.
The chart provides the percentage of people affected by bullying and those who have witnessed bullying in the workplace.
Note: The above chart is relevant to the United States only.
Gary Namie, the co-founder and director of WBI and a social psychologist says,
“It comes just like sexual harassment—uninvited, undeserved, unwarranted.”
Your mental, as well as physical health, can deteriorate if you happen to be a bullying target at work.
The potential side effects include everything from depression, anxiety, stress, high blood pressure, trauma, gastrointestinal issues, and many more.
It can be very dangerous and damaging for your overall personality, your psyche in particular. You constantly remain in a state of fear and you simply cannot be yourself any longer.
CEO of Civility Partners, Catherine Mattice Zundel, who also coaches bullies and is a specialist in resolving toxic workplace environments, says,
“People are angry and confused and they’re concerned about their jobs all day every day—is today the day I’m going to be fired?” She adds. “That’s just no way to live.”
DEFINITION OF WORKPLACE BULLYING
Workplace bullying has become rampant in offices and the workplace despite the best efforts of organizations like the World Bullying Institute to eradicate it.
“repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators.”
Bullying in the workplace is an abusive act which consists one of the following.
- Threatening, intimidating or humiliating the victim.
- Sabotaging or interfering the work, which eventually results in unfinished or inferior work.
- Verbal abuse
You may even have to endure bullying throughout your career. You can encounter different types of bullying in your office as well.
For example, there may be sexually inappropriate colleagues or you have to bear with a verbally abusive boss on a daily basis.
Sometimes, bullying can continue behind the scene without you even realizing what is happening behind your back. Some people even use the internet (cyberbullying) in an attempt to harass innocent victims.
It is pretty easy to hide behind different emails and instant messaging apps. Social media is a great tool to start communicating with someone.
However, it can also cause great emotional stress if someone decides to misuse it.
Some other forms of workplace bullying include unnecessary criticism, verbal abuse, different kinds of embarrassments hurled at you, and unwanted physical contact.
It is also worth mentioning that it is not only your colleagues who indulge in such activities, but bullying can also come right from the top through abuse of power.
Sir Philips Green, an infamous British businessman is one such example.
People have been lampooning him for his attempt to silence his former employees who accused him of harassment and bullying along with bringing a string of other allegations against him.
Deniz Sasal gives practical advice you can implement to combat workplace bullying in his video.
WHAT DRIVES THE WORKPLACE BULLYING
There may be many reasons why you become the target of a workplace bully.
But, you have every right to ask the question “why me?”
And, you are not alone. Bullying affects the personal and professional lives of almost 55 million Americans every year.
Similarly, 30 percent of all employees suffer from some sort of bullying at some stage in their career.
The following diagram, taken from the same report of the World Bullying Institute, gives the percentage of each gender of bullies and the percentage of their target genders.
Here are some of the most important reasons why a bully may target you at work.
You are a Skilled Worker
Bullies at work may develop a special grudge against you because you receive a lot of positive attention and appreciation for your work.
Maybe you are creative, determined, intelligent and hard-working. Maybe you regularly come up with new and unique ideas which contribute to the growth of your company.
Maybe you go out of your way to get the job done.
Maybe you complete your project quickly while they struggle to move past the initiation stage.
All these attributes or qualities are enough to call the wrath of workplace bullies.
As soon as bullies realize you are better than them in every possible manner, they resort to their filthy and lousy tactics.
They either feel inferior to you or that you are overshadowing them by performing brilliantly and showing some great skills.
Bullying managers are more likely to target skilled workers because they consider them a threat to their own position. They particularly try to undermine your work or steal the credit altogether.
You are Popular or Well-Liked
It is childish to think that only losers, outcasts, and loners with no social connections or friends become victims of bullying.
On most occasions, bullies tend to target the most popular and well-liked workers in the office.
In fact, their fame and popularity among others make them highly vulnerable to bullying. You must be very careful and cautious if you are one such employee.
Bullies believe your reputation is undermining their own social status and popularity in the workplace.
Believe it or not, it is the office mean girls who quite often bully other women who are seemingly replacing them as the most wanted girls in the office.
Therefore, all the jabs and attacks directed towards you by office bullies could also mean you are a popular employee and they are burning up with jealousy.
You are Vulnerable or Non-Confrontational
The most common targets of workplace bullying are submissive, anxious or introverted people compared to assertive and extroverted ones.
You will considerably reduce the chances of being attacked by the workplace bullies if you work to develop your assertiveness skills and self-esteem.
You may also attract the attention of bullies if you suffer from disorders such as depression and anxiety. It is very important to get treatment for any condition you are suffering from.
Talk to your physician about your symptoms.
You should never leave conditions like anxiety, depression and other stress-related problems untreated. It is necessary, otherwise, bullying will only exacerbate your problems.
You are a Good Person
People may also bully you for being a collaborative, social, and caring person.
They believe you are depriving them of the power they have at work by displaying these characteristics.
They are particularly against team building because it works against their own vested interests.
They want to be in power and call all the shots in the office. You may be the only person standing in their way.
It is also not a good idea to totally change your behavior. It simply gives you some insight into why bullies are targeting you in the first place.
They may also attack you for honesty and ethics. For examples, bullies frequently target whistleblowers who expose their fraudulent practices and force them to keep quiet.
Your Physical Features can Attract Bullies
Unfortunately, you may become a victim of the workplace bullying for the same reasons you were targeted by other children in elementary school.
Workplace bullies will find a way to bully you for your appearance no matter you are small or big, heavy or thin, tall or short or you have a large breast or no breast at all.
In fact, bullies will exploit all kinds of physical features that are unique or different.
This includes everything from wearing glasses to having large protruding ears, having a large nose, and even having adult acne.
Bullies View You as Prejudicial or Stereotypical
People may also target you for your religion, gender, race, age, and sexual preference. Your likelihood of getting bullied manifolds if you have a disease or disability.
Irrespective of reasons, workplace bullies single out and continually target any person who is seemingly different from them.
CORROSIVE EFFECTS OF WORKPLACE BULLYING
Workplace bullies have always been a menace at work.
However, both employers and employees have started to recognize them as productivity killers.
Decrease in productivity because of these bullies cost businesses $200 billion a year.
Watch the VOA Special English Economics Report about how much workplace bullying costs businesses annually.
Bullying also leads to high turnover and increased absenteeism. It corrodes away the workplace with the passage of time. Some of its destructive effects are as under.
- Reduced efficiency, productivity and thus, profitability.
- Higher employee turnover, sick time, and increased absenteeism.
- Decreased loyalty.
- Increased costs of doing business because of hiring new people and training them.
- Increased workers’ compensation claims.
- Indirect costs because you have to spend a lot of time to deal with bullies and bullying situations.
- Bullies can destroy the company’s image.
- Potential fines from the concerned agency for not abiding by occupational health and safety laws.
- Bullied employees can file lawsuits which further increase potential costs.
The point to note here is that bullying itself isn’t illegal. However, a bully exhibits many behaviors such as harassment and bias which are considered illegal across the world.
The following infographic by Safe Work Australia presents the connection between violence, harassment and bullying and work-related mental disorders in Australian workplaces.
THE 8 MOST COMMON TYPES OF BULLIES
Having full knowledge of different types of workplace bullies will help you stand against them and keep them at their place.
It will not only enable you to spot them at first sight but stop them in their tracks as well.
Your office may have any or all of the following kinds of bullies as identified by the founder of Overcomebullying.org, Anton Hout.
1. Two-Headed Snake
This type of bully behaves politely with his target on his face. He appears to be a trusted colleague or best friend to you.
However, he will try his best to destroy your reputation. He may even take credit for your work or stab you in the back.
2. Screaming Mimi
This is the most common and easily recognizable type of workplace bully. The behavior can be considered as obnoxious and outright disrespectful.
Sometimes, they yell and borderline shout at their target, the sole purpose of which is to humiliate and berate him in front of other people. They take satisfaction from the notion that others fear them and can’t fight back.
3. The Gatekeeper
There is one person in every office who escapes reprimand for his mistreatment of others. He keeps on wielding his powers on others without any consequences.
Sometimes, the power is real, but most often, it is perceived. Gatekeepers may even deny you of your rights such as tools, information, and other resources you need to succeed.
4. The Constant Critic
The constant critic, as the name suggests, is the exponent of constant and in most cases, the unwarranted criticism, which aims at dismantling your confidence.
He or she leaves no stone unturned to find the minutest of flaws in your work or personality and labor tirelessly to destroy your credibility.
He does not care if you are doing impeccable work. He will make you look bad in any case.
This type of bully is just like committing the crime of creating evidence or falsifying documents to stain others’ reputation.
5. The Attention Seeker
This is another type of bully you often come across in the workplace.
He wants to be the center of attention at any cost. He tries to get on his seniors’ good book through practices like consistent flattery.
Sometimes, he even appears to be very helpful and kind to his colleagues, especially the newcomers.
However, he will quickly turn on you if you fail to provide him with the level of attention he seeks.
Attention seekers do many things to gather sympathy and then control.
For instance, they will explain everything with respect to something going wrong with their own lives.
They can also act overly dramatic and create chaos in the workplace.
Another indication you are dealing with an attention seeker is that he tries to seek personal information from his colleagues, especially the new employees which he later uses against them.
6. The Sociopath
The sociopaths are usually charismatic, charming, well-spoken, and intelligent.
That is why they are also the most dangerous and destructive bullies in the workplace.
They are adept in playing with others’ emotions and manipulate them in order to grind their own ax. What makes them particularly toxic is the fact that they have no empathy for others whatsoever.
Most of the sociopaths have the skills and tact to obtain the position of high power in the organization, making them even more hazardous.
If one of your colleagues or superiors has a lot of lackeys who are willing to do his dirty work, he is most likely a sociopath as well. He helps them rise in the rank in exchange for their help.
7. The Wannabe
The wannabe, as the name suggests, expects appreciation for everything he does. Such an employee considers him an integral part of the organization without contributing much to its growth.
He is normally not very good at his job either.
Therefore, he compensates for his weaknesses by observing harder working and competent employees and finding faults with them which he can later complain about.
Wannabe also does not care if there are better ways of doing things.
He insists on getting the work done his way even if it entails hidden dangers and consequences for the business.
It is in his system to oppose everyone else’s ideas and insert his own opinion and decision on others.
Therefore, he will do everything possible to prevent any change to his work processes.
8. The Guru
The guru is a bully who performs satisfactorily enough for the organization. In most cases, the guru is often considered an authority in his area of specialty.
No matter how good technically this type of bully is, he severely lacks emotional maturity and empathy for others.
Guru also considers him superior to his colleagues, subordinates and even seniors just because he offers great technical skills. He never admits he can be wrong.
He also does not take any responsibility for his mistakes or failures and put blame on others without realizing how his actions affect them.
More importantly, he has no regard whatsoever for rules and regulations because he feels though as he is “above it all.”
Here are four other types of workplace bullies according to Dr. Gary Namie.
WHY WORKPLACE BULLIES ESCAPE PUNISHMENT?
Workplace bullies can make your life a nightmare because they know they can get away with it.
Things can get out of control if the bullies are “rainmakers” who bring a lot of profit for the company.
The administration does not care that the bully’s behavior is eroding the team’s morale. It does not matter if he is breaking all the rules and regulations which others are bound to follow.
It does not matter if he does not follow any of the business models you studied in the college. It does not matter how many employees go to sick leave or simply quit because of his behavior.
It is not about how talented you are, how educated you are, how experienced you are or how hard do you work.
You could do nothing about the bullying if the people who have the power to give workplace bullies high level of authority keep on turning blind eye to the problem.
Workplace tyrants mostly get away with their misconduct and behaviors, much to the dismay of the victims and other staff members.
In the meantime, you gradually lose love for your company and the profession because of their dictatorial, aggressive, hypercritical, and micromanaging ways.
You start losing any hope that you may put the bullies to the sword when you realize that they have more protection than you, making the situation quite lamentable, to say the least.
Let’s take a closer look at why this is the case in most organizations.
Lack of Evidence
Documentation plays a pivotal part when it comes to proving your allegations against the bullies.
If you do not have any documented evidence of wrongdoing, you cannot accuse anyone of anything, including the bullies.
The HR department will need something in black and white before proceeding with the case.
Your company’s HR department may be hell-bent on helping you.
They may also want to get rid of the tyrant who has been terrorizing the workplace for years.
However, they also need details of specific cases of unfair behaviors, intimidation and harassment and the exact time and date on which they occurred.
You should not expect any specific assistance from HR either.
They have their own soles to save as well.
They cannot be seen as working as a team with you to bring a culprit to justice, especially if you are still ill-prepared and have no concrete evidence to prove your allegations.
If you have not done your homework, it is just your words against a bully which are not enough.
You can augment your case by convincing people who have seen bullying to be your witnesses.
Yet, witnesses do not normally speak up in most cases.
No One Speaks Up
Everyone knows Jessica in the engineering department is a terrible person and extremely horrible to others. How is she still around?
Chances are on one, including yourself, has spoken to the HR department about Jessica and how she makes the working environment toxic.
If the HR department has no idea that a bully exists, you cannot expect them to take any action against her.
But, what if they refuse to take action after learning the truth about Jessica?
There are many things you can do such as exposing a bully to the press and the public.
Bullies who are habitual of expressing demeaning, racist or sexual tirades often have to explain their behavior before the press when someone exposes their tantrums for public viewing.
However, do check your company’s policies before you consider this option.
Sometimes, the procedure to terminate a bully is a long and hard one.
It involves taking your statement, interviewing the bully, interviewing the witnesses – most of which do not speak up, finding facts, and a lot of documentation.
Subsequently, they have to overcome even more hurdles to fire an employee.
It is a Lot of Work and Most People are Not Willing to Do It
The bully also escapes punishment or termination simply because nobody wants to be part of this tiring and tedious process.
Believe it or not, laziness is quite common in HR departments. It is professional incompetence at its worst but this is the way things are in most companies.
There is another thing which protects bullies no matter how compelling the evidence may be against them.
HR employees often hesitate to initiate an action against a high performing bully fearing it will threaten their own job or position.
As a matter of fact, a lot of bullying happens within your HR department as well for the same reason.
Bullies Have Connections
Sometimes, it is only about who has connections and who does not.
Bullies may have family or friends in high places and you may not. It will be very hard for HR to convince the boss to terminate a bully if he has someone to back him up.
HOW TO STOP A WORKPLACE BULLY?
It can be overwhelming to figure out how to stop a bully from intimidating you again.
However, there are many things you can to deal with him and some of them are explained as under.
Kantola Training Solutions offer some practical tips on managing workplace bullying in the following video.
Speak Up Early On
You can become a long term victim of workplace bully if you don’t have the courage to nip the evil in the bud.
Giving a befitting response to someone who tries to mistreat you can prevent bullying incidents in the future.
It is even more important to speak up at the right moment and squash whatever he is trying to achieve. Remember that bullies pick a person who is least expected to resist them.
Fight back and they will never mess with you again.
Your body language should also be aggressive when you take a fight with a bully.
You should stand tall with your arms at your side. If you are looking down with hunched shoulders and arms folded, it will clearly show your nervousness and your reluctance to combat the bully.
Bullying will only exacerbate if you let it continue and totally ignore it during the early days.
A large number of victims let it go for a long time before they realize they are actually being bullied.
But, it might already be too late by then. You cannot abridge the power gap once it has been widened enough for you to fix.
The bottom line is that the bully will not stop if you don’t gather the courage to face him.
The chances are the bullying will intensify. It is better to take a different approach if you are far down that path.
Document Your Performance and Abuse
If you think you have missed your chance to respond quickly to the bullying and it is already too late, do not panic.
You can still bring your tormenter to the task by documenting the abuse and your own performance.
Keep a diary or record of exactly when and where Jessica mistreated you.
For example, you can write down the names of all the participants if the bullying occurred in a meeting.
What the bully said and why she said it? Try to write everything in as much detail as possible.
You have to give concrete examples and proofs of the mistreatments you have been subjected to by the bully if you decide to report her later on.
Similarly, start filing hard copies of all the emails, messages and other evidence if the bullying occurs through such sources. This will help you back up your side of the story.
If your abusive manager criticizes your performance, document everything in addition to collecting already existing files and certifications which demonstrate quantifiable results of the project you have undertaken.
Furthermore, any appreciatory emails you have received from other stakeholders will further bolster your narrative as well.
Do Your Own Research
It is also necessary for you to do your own research regarding your company’s policies about verbal abuse, mistreatment or bullying which you can later use as a reference.
Many organizations have no formal policy against bullying since it isn’t illegal.
But, every organization puts forward its values and expectations.
It is worth spending time exploring your employee handbook which may contain any such information.
If you are able to find any such language or policy, it will considerably strengthen your case if you go ahead with your complaint.
In the meantime, you should also consult with an attorney about whether or not your situation falls in the category of harassment. You may be able to find a legal recourse even if your situation does not qualify as harassment.
It is recommended to tell a concise version of your story to the attorney who is an expert in discrimination and harassment cases.
It will help you discover your options and how you can avail them.
However, only consult with an attorney who works with plaintiffs rather than accused. You can also check WBI’s detailed advice on finding a lawyer.
If you decide to take that route, you may have to pay a hefty fee to these attorneys.
While some of them do provide consultancy for free, others will charge you from as low as $75 per hour to hundreds of dollars per hour.
Talk to Your Boss or Someone Else if the Boss is the Bully
If you have tried your best to deal with the perpetrator but to no avail, it is time to raise the issue with your boss or manager. You can explain what is going on between you and the bully.
You can also list the steps you have taken to resolve the situation and what do you expect your boss to do.
This is a much better approach than saying, “I need your help because Jessica is bullying me.”
Sometimes, the situation becomes a bit more complicated when your boss is a bully.
In this case, you have to decide whether or not you trust your direct manager, any of your boss’s peers or people above him in the office hierarchy.
The secret here is to access the level of relationship between different employees in the organization.
For instance, it will be foolish to seek help from a person who worked with your boss in the previous company or who hired your boss in the first place.
And, you will never turn to your boss’s relatives (if you work in a family company) or his best friend at work.
You have to be very careful here because things can get really bad if your complaint somehow gets back to the bully.
Contact HR or Someone in Power
You have to get many things right before you decide to talk to HR or someone in the C-suite.
In my opinion, you should never talk to HR if you can take your complaint to a high ranking official.
Whether or not you should take your case to HR depends upon the type of HR person you are dealing with.
There are actually two types of HR persons in every organization.
One type of HR person values the company’s culture and people whereas the other focuses too heavily on rules and compliance.
You may have trouble with the latter but the earlier “does not need a corporate policy to help you.”
Secondly, you must strive to put emphasize on business interest instead of making a personal plea, especially if you have decided to talk to someone from C-suite.
For example, you can talk about increased absenteeism, lost productivity and decreased profits occurring due to the bully and its overall impact on the profitability of the company.
Your documentation can come handy at this stage because you will be able to practically demonstrate how bullying resulted in time wastage and lost resources.
Finally, you must also decide what you want from them beforehand. Do you just want to inform them about the situation or you want them to take action? What do you actually need from the HR or C-suite?
Is that you want the bully to be transferred or terminated? What will be your course of action if you don’t get what you are looking for?
It’s okay if your answer is that you will leave. Ultimately, your psychological wellbeing, self-respect, and dignity are much more important than the salary you draw.
Take Care of Yourself Outside Your Job
Bullying can take a huge toll on you both in your personal and professional life.
But, you will do yourself a great favor if you indulge in positive activities to nullify the negative ones.
Partake in activities, if possible, that make you happy and relaxed outside the work.
Join a football team, do yoga, or go hiking. Do everything possible which releases your tension and brings joy to your life.
Also, spend more and more time with your friends and family.
Explain everything to them and lean on their support.
However, keep yourself from continually ranting about your work problems as it could strain your relationships.
Find a New Job
The ugly truth is that 77% of victims ultimately leave their job.
They either get too fed up to continue, or end up getting terminated by the higher authorities because their performance keeps on declining due to long-time abuse.
It is in your own best interest to keep looking for a new job. This is especially important if your company doesn’t seem interested in resolving the issue or punishing the bully swiftly and forcefully.
Sometimes, higher officials can do nothing because the company does not have any relevant policy or rules. In some cases, the boss himself is the bully.
Therefore, it is important to keep in touch with other companies so you can get an appointment if you do decide to leave your current company.
Workplace bullying can make your life a living hell in addition to having a negative impact on your performance.
Therefore, you need to do everything in your power to spot and stop workplace bullies before things get out of hand.
You may have to take the matters in your own hand if you think that no one is lending ears to your plight.
If nothing seems to be working, then you must find a new job instead of compromising on your dignity and self-respect.