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Workplace bullying – still a taboo topic

No form of bullying should tolerated.

Bullying is usually associated with children and teens but truth is that it can happen to anyone at any place, at any age. Workplace bullying can harm both your mental and your physical health and several bullying victims suffer from anxiety, depression, headaches, high blood pressure, stomach issues, and more.

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is repeated inappropriate behavior, verbal, written or physical and it aims at intimidating, threatening, humiliating, or undermining the victim’s confidence.

What are its forms?

The majority (61%) of workplace bullies are bosses, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s survey. However the rest 39% comes from any direction in the organization chart and it can take several forms or a combination of the following:

a. Aggression

The bully is usually loud and tries to intimidate more than one person at the same time so nobody stands up for the victim for fear of the consequences. Aggressive communication can include yelling and aggressive body language. This is often performed by a boss and it is the most obvious form of bullying.

b. Humiliation

The bully humiliates the victim by pointing out their mistakes, stealing their ideas, sabotaging them, and excluding them from important meetings, withholding information and resources. This is usually institutional, that is, the workplace accepts and allows bullying which may include unrealistic goals, forced overtime, etc. Bullies who take credit for someone else’s work or blame others may even end up being promoted.

c. Two-faced colleagues

This is for the one who pretends to be your friend and asks you “May I help you with anything?” but they never mean it as they never help and then, they undermine you behind your back. These are the colleagues that will also retaliate if the victim speaks up and they will accuse the victim of lying.

d. Joking

When the bully makes jokes against or picks on the victim and ultimately makes them feel sad or anxious for a situation. Sometimes the bully encourages others to pick on the victim as well by sharing the jokes against them. These are the colleagues who lack confidence and try to look superior in front of their colleagues.

What is NOT workplace bullying?

When management acts justifiably and reasonably serving the company’s goals, they can take decisions about poor performance and act correctively. They will also resolve conflict without taking sides.

Don’t mix bullying with discrimination

This is important and often neglected. I would know because I was discriminated when I was a postgrad student. Discrimination results in something negative for the victim, such as firing or demoting, on top of any mental and/or physical issues.

What to do?

Your time at the office shouldn’t be filled with negative emotions. If it is, remember that you need to take care of yourself and follow the next steps.

  1. Confirm that you experience bullying. Judge the situation objectively and confirm that you indeed face a bully. Make sure it is not harassment or discrimination.
  2. Don’t be afraid and stand up for yourself. Talk to your bully and tell them that you want them to stop it.
  3. Log the incidents. Who did what, where and when. If you decide to report the bully, you need to have specific examples.
  4. Take care of yourself. Exercise, spend time with loved ones, start a hobby or visit a therapist or coach who can help you cope. It is always best to find someone who specializes in counselling bullying victims so ask potential therapists questions about their experience.
  5. Remember that bullying is not illegal in most countries so make sure whether you are bullied or harassed.
  6. Talk to someone at work. If you have tried to make the bully stop, approach your manager (unless they are the bully) or someone else at the same hierarchy level or above them. You can always try to talk to HR (if there is an HR department). Always know what you want when you talk to someone. Do you want their help? Do you want you or the bully to be transferred? What will you do if you cannot get what you are after?
  7. Gauge the outcome after you talked to someone and think of your next steps. My next step was to quit because the C-level executives didn’t want to take sides and as we were less than 30 people, the bully could not been transferred. So start looking for a job, even if you follow the aforementioned options.

What to do if you witness a bullying incident at work

If you feel confident, speak up for the victim, when the bullying takes place. Otherwise, if the bully is not more senior than you, talk to them in person and explain to them that what they do is wrong. At the same time, offer your support to the victim. Tell them that you are there for them. When the bully sees that the victim finds support, they may reduce or stop the bullying altogether.

Finally if you are a leader, try learning more about Talent Management to make sure you keep your employees happy.

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