Published on August 11, 2014

Woman being bullied by coworker

How to deal with a workplace bully

Bullying is defined as repeated less favorable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate in workplace practice. It includes behavior to intimidate, offend, degrade, humiliate, undermine or threaten.

Bullying is physical or psychological behavior, or conduct where strength (including strength of personality) and/or a position of power is misused by a person in a position of authority, or by a person who perceives that they are in a position of power or authority.

There are bound to be occasional differences of opinion, conflicts and problems in working relations - these are part of working life. But when the behavior is unreasonable and offends or harms you, then workplace bullying exists and should not be tolerated.

Bullying may take place between:

  • A worker and a manager (or supervisor)
  • Co-workers
  • A worker and another person in the workplace, eg. a student.

A bully is equally likely to be male or female.

Bullying May be Overt or Covert Overt Bullying

Examples of overt bullying include:

  • Abusive behavior towards another employee such as threatening gestures or actual violence.
  • Aggressive, abusive or offensive language, including threats or shouting.
  • Demeaning remarks.
  • Constant unreasonable and nonconstructive criticism.

Examples of covert bullying include:

  • Deliberate exclusion, isolation or alienation of the employee from normal work interaction, such as intentionally excluding the employee from meetings.
  • Placing unreasonably high work demands on one employee, but not on others.
  • Allocation of demeaning jobs or meaningless tasks only.
  • Unreasonably ignoring the employee.
  • Undermining another employee, including encouraging others to "gang up" on the employee.
  • Deliberately withholding information that a person needs to perform her or his job role.
  • Repeated refusal of requests for leave or training without adequate explanation and suggestion or alternatives.

Effects of Bullying

The effects of workplace bullying on you may include:

  • High stress levels, anxiety, sleep disturbances etc.
  • Ill health, severe tiredness, panic attacks, impaired ability to make decisions, etc.
  • Incapacity to work, loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, feelings of social isolation at work, reduced output and performance.

The costs to the organization include: reduced efficiency, unsafe work environment, increased absenteeism, poor morale, increased workers' compensation claims and civil action.

What Can You Do About Workplace Bullying?

Keep a diary of workplace bullying.

Bullying can sometimes be difficult to define and to prove. It is therefore important to keep a diary of events, recording:

  • Incidents, in as much detail as possible.
  • The names and addresses of people willing to support your claims.

This diary can be used at a later date to assist you with proving your case.

Approach the alleged bully.

Sometimes, speaking directly to the alleged bully, telling them you object to their bullying behavior and asking them to stop the behavior may solve the problem.

Report the harassment.

Report the harassment to the person identified in your workplace policy, your supervisor, or a delegated manager. If your concerns are minimized, proceed to the next level of management.

Do not retaliate.

You may end up looking like the perpetrator and will most certainly cause confusion for those responsible for evaluating and responding to the situation.

What Can an Employer Do?

The most important component of any workplace prevention program is management commitment. This is best in a written policy.

Since bullying is a form of violence in the workplace, employers may wish to write a comprehensive policy that covers a range of incidents (from bullying and harassment to physical violence).

A workplace violence prevention program must:

  • Be developed by management and employee representatives.
  • Apply to management, employees, clients, independent contractors and anyone who has a relationship with your company.
  • Define what you mean by workplace bullying (or harassment or violence) in precise, concrete language.
  • Provide clear examples of unacceptable behavior and working conditions.
  • State in clear terms your organization's view toward workplace bullying and its commitment to the prevention of workplace bullying.

Workplace Bullying: What You Can Do For Your Health

  • Precisely state the consequences of making threats or committing acts.
  • Encourage reporting of all incidents of bullying or other forms of workplace violence.
  • Outline the confidential process by which employees can report incidents and to whom.
  • Assure no reprisals will be made against reporting employees.
  • Outline the procedures for investigating and resolving complaints.
  • Make a commitment to provide support services to victims.
  • Offer a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to allow employees with personal problems to seek help.

Resources

Books and Articles
Gary Namie, PhD & Ruth Namie, PhD, Institute Founders,
The Bully At Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job

Websites
workplacebullying.org
togetheragainstbullying.org

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