It’s sad to see the playground bully make their way into the boardroom. The little tyrant who ruined your childhood became your new co-worker or boss. Stealing lunches and name-calling turned to passive-aggressive comments and workplace exclusion. If this behaviour isn’t stopped then those targeted will lose what could have been their livelihood due to someone else’s insolence. As for employers, they may lose not only valuable employees and may be on the receiving end of claims involving harassment, negligent supervision, and infliction of emotional distress. So how do you deal with a workplace bully, if there is one in your work environment? The best place to start is to recognize the telltale signs of workplace bullying and learn the tactics to stop the bully and their behaviour in their tracks.
What is Workplace Bullying?
Canada Safety Council defines workplace violence and bullying as any incident in which a person is abused, threatened, or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. There are many forms of workplace bullying. Signs of workplace bullying typically include verbal abuse (e.g., hurling passive-aggressive insults, shouting, and swearing), repeatedly being singled out for unjustified criticism or blame, and physical threats/assaults. Psychological harassment (i.e., mind games) and deliberately changing the victim’s tasks or schedule in order to make work difficult for them also constitutes as workplace bullying. All of these forms have the purpose of lowering your self-esteem, making you feel less important and undervalued. A workplace bully would sometimes perform these actions in front of a group of people or customers as a way to further humiliate and belittle the victim.
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Statistics state that 72% of workplace bullies are in a position of power, such as a supervisor or a manager. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t go after the “weakest link.” Rather, they tend to go after the capable, competent, and co-operative people that they identify as a “threat.” People who are diligent and hard working serve as a constant reminder of the bullies’ insecurities. The workplace bully retaliates through picking out the victim’s perceived weaknesses. If a victim has a slight speech impediment but is a fantastic worker, the bully will exploit that one tiny flaw in order to feel better about themselves.
Workplace bullying can have many severe effects on the victims. Stress and lowered productivity are just two of the afflictions resulting from workplace bullying. Victims also suffer from lowered self-esteem, anxiety, and high blood pressure from working in an environment where they constantly face degradation from their peers. For the companies that allow this type of behaviour to persist, the effects can cause some serious damage to their business. For employers, the victims will resign from their job and company, resulting in a high turnover rate. Loss of morale and motivation since the bully is more interested in making life for their victim a living hell than making money for the company. The victims are also less likely to share their ideas and concerns due to their fear of attacks from the bully. Lastly, the company will have a hard time hiring quality people, as word will spread that the company has a toxic work environment. Nobody wants to work for a company that is a dysfunctional drama-filled cesspool.
Combating the Bully
So what do you do when you’re on the receiving end of some unwarranted bullying at the office? Do you dumb down your intelligence to that of the bully’s? Keep quiet in the hopes that the bully will leave you alone? Beg for a demotion from your boss? All of those options would only give the bully power over you, resulting in them winning. When the bully wins they’ll continue their behaviour, if not with you then with the next victim that comes along.
A bully takes their strength from silence so speaking up about the issue is necessary. Whether you’re the bystander or the victim yourself, don’t be afraid of contacting upper management or the Human Resources department. Many companies have instilled policies on workplace bullying, from zero tolerance to a formal complaint process. Getting informed of your company’s harassment and violence policy is a great first step in taking down the workplace bully. In addition, companies with good anti-bullying policies usually hold meetings to remind employees what a workplace bully is, how to report it, and the consequences of such behaviour. Prior to the meeting, keep a log of all of the instances and include the actions that you’ve taken to put a stop to the bullying. Bring this documentation to the meeting as evidence that this is happening and that you’re being proactive in restoring workplace harmony. These meetings are a great opportunity to expose the bully in a room full of witnesses and supporters.
Assertiveness is also necessary in taking down the workplace bully. Although it’s easier said than done, confronting the bully and telling them that their actions are disrespectful and unwarranted could end the bad behaviour. Only do this when you feel confident and safe so you can outline your concerns and provide examples in a calm manner. If you’re unsure of how to approach the bully, you might be able to get advice from a third party, be it a former boss, colleague, or someone you trust.
Lastly, pity the bully. It’s not your fault that they can’t set their insecurities and immaturity on the playground. You’re not responsible for the hate that they have for themselves. Keep on being the wonderful worker that you are and leave that overgrown tyrant to suffer with their hang-ups.
We all have the right to a safe workplace that is free from violence, harassment, and bullying. Hopefully this article will help you set in motion the steps towards creating a positive space where everyone is appreciated for their diverse talents.