It's a sad fact that bullying is a serious problem in many workplaces. In fact, according to a 2010 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 35 percent of the U.S. workforce, or 53.5 million people, have experienced workplace bullying at some point in their careers. Workplace bullying involves being subjected to hostile, abusive behavior that can interfere with your ability to function, productivity and overall well-being. Although change begins at the top, you can also take certain proactive steps to overcome workplace bullying.
Naming the behavior is the first step toward empowerment. The factors that make bullying different from other problematic behaviors, like rudeness, aren't always readily apparent. Bullying is often difficult to detect because bullies intimidate their victims so they won't be tempted to complain, says a 2001 article in the "Graziadio Business Review." Bullying behavior involves real psychological harm that can include constant criticism, insults or belittling, sabotage or isolation. For example, a bully might insult you or say something nasty to your face, but pretend that you are his best friend in public. Or a bully might purposely isolate you by cutting you out of the communication loop.
If you don't change your behavior, the bully has no reason to stop harassing you. Giving the bully the silent treatment or trying to ignore her actions only encourages the behavior. People who stand up for themselves and refuse to be targets are rarely the victims of workplace bullying, according to the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. Talk to the bully directly, and let her know that you will no longer tolerate her behavior. Provide specific examples of the ways her behavior has affected you. Don't respond in anger or fear -- try to stay calm and composed during your confrontation.
Taking time off can help you get back on your feet and allow you to figure out a plan of action, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. You might want to request sick leave or short-term disability from your physician. Discuss the problem with a qualified mental health professional, but preferably not someone from your organization's employee assistance program. You need to decide whether you want to leave or make a counterattack. Consult a labor attorney. Inform yourself about your workplace's harassment policies. If the problem is serious enough, you might also wish to start looking for another position during this time.
Sometimes, legal action is the only step that will end workplace bullying, but it's not always a guarantee. Unfortunately, most cases of workplace bullying can't be resolved in one clean sweep. Don't try to counterattack until you're totally prepared. Keep a written record of all incidents. You can take several steps during this phase to launch your counterattack, such as filing a workplace grievance or complaint with your human resources department, and talking to your union representative. But there's no current law against workplace bullying, says the Workplace Bullying Institute. Ultimately, your employer needs to decide how they want to proceed -- whether to ignore the issue or address the problem and fire the bully. Bullying is, unfortunately, legal, and if the behavior doesn't stop, you may need to seek another job to salvage your health and well-being.
- Workplace Bullying Institute: Results of the 2010 and 2007 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey
- Graziadio Business Review: Are Workplace Bullies Sabotaging Your Ability to Compete?
- Winnipeg Regional Health Authority: Workplace Bullying Is a Health Hazard
- Workplace Bullying Institute: The WBI 3-Step Action Plan
- Workplace Bullying Institute: Frequently Asked Questions
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