How to Deal With Bullying At The Workplace

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20-30% of employees say regularly that they are bullied at work. Many feel helpless. Few countries have laws specifically targeted against workplace bullying. Here is some practical advice what to do if you are bullied at work.

Bullying at the workplace or peer abuse is a common problem. Roughly 20% of employees allege that they face bullying at work, according to a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development UK survey

Surveys in other countries e.g. New Zealand give similar figures. 

Canadian research reveals that workplace bullying is much worse than sexual harassment at work. 

Workplace bullying can be a factor affecting your income. Being bullied at work can cause sleep disturbances and even death

Workplace bullying is very different from school bullying like fagging in British public boarding schools, hazing or ragging in American elite educational establishments or dedovschina in the Soviet and Russian armies. The main difference is that workplace bullying is never a rite of passage.

What Is Bullying at Work?

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Bullying at work happens when someone tries to intimidate another person directly or indirectly, through verbal harassment, physical assault or threat of it or by using any subtle method of coercion by manipulating or by threatening with social exclusion. Typically bullying is directed at another person in a less senior position and bullying can often take place in front of other people.

Typical Characteristics of Workplace Bullying

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Typically workplace bullying has one or more characteristics from this list.

  • Some form of undermining behaviour and smear campaigns
  • Obvious unfair treatment
  • Public humiliation (in front of colleagues or outsiders such as customers)
  • Regular threats of dismissal
  • Physical assault or threat of it
  • Persistent denial of promotion or development opportunities, which others are not denied
  • Credit for person’s achievements regularly given to others
  • Systematically spreading malicious rumours and character assassination
  • Social ostracism (the person is threatened to be ignored by everyone)

Why is Workplace Bullying Difficult to Deal With?

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In most countries it is not possible to directly make a legal claim about bullying, but there are many other laws covering issues such as discrimination, harassment, constructive dismissal (when employees resign because the employer’s behaviour towards them has become so oppressive or made life so difficult that they may consider themselves to have been fired).

Sweden is one of the few countries in the world with specific laws against bullying at the workplace. 

The Canadian provinces of Quebec and Saskatchewan have specific laws against workplace bullying. There is no anti bullying law in the federal level USA or UK but 16 US states have proposed legislation.

What To Do If You Are Bullied at Work?

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What to do if I am bullied at work? If this is topmost on your mind, but you are clueless about what actions to take, here are some guidelines for you.

  1. Get perspective – Get advice to be absolutely sure that you are really being bullied. Someone in your organisation’s human resource department, an employee representative or trade union official or your own manager or supervisor could give you good advice.
  2. Take a stress management and assertiveness course. This may be very helpful for your life in general.
  3. Talk to the “bully” – Is the “bullying” intentional? There is a possibility that the other person doesn’t realise how their behaviour is affecting you. Get advice before talking to the “bully” and rehearse what you want to say. Describe objectively (as if you are writing a report) what has been happening and why you object to certain aspects of their actions. If the bullying is intentional, sometimes it helps if the “bully” learns that you will not put up with it. Consider having a third person like a supervisor or a human resource person present as you confront the “bully”. Stay calm, objective and polite. Avoid calling names and yelling because the “bully” can accuse you of malicious behaviour at work.
  4. Document instances of bullying by writing in a diary or make spoken notes in a recorder and not with whom you have spoken about it.
  5. Try to get witnesses for the bullying you experience.
  6. Make a formal complaint – If getting advice or talking with the “bully” didn’t solve the problem, you need to follow your organisation’s grievance procedure and make a formal complaint.
  7. Take legal action – If making a formal complaint doesn’t help, think about taking legal action e.g. going to an Employment Tribunal (UK) or seeking other legal help. This may mean making civil claims for personal injury and even criminal action in some cases.

Good luck! May you never be bullied at your workplace!

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Rana Sinha

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