We’ve all heard about the increase in bullying among children, but workplace bullying among adults is also a growing problem. Bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job—but it’s not illegal, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. Experts say the effects of workplace bullying can be disruptive and devastating both inside and outside of the office, causing low employee retention, absenteeism, and low productivity. In addition, those targeted may show symptoms including stress, high blood pressure, or even post-traumatic stress disorder.
What should you do if you are being bullied at work? “There is fear about broaching the subject. It’s a touchy area still, as no one wants to admit to being a bully or being bullied,” says Dr. Colleen Logan, program director for the MS in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling; MS in Career Counseling; and MS in Addiction Counseling programs.
Dr. Logan offers the following tips for how to manage being bullied in the workplace:
- Know the signs. Workplace bullying can take on many forms, including verbal abuse in the form of threats, rumors, and gossip, as well as the silent treatment; offensive conduct and behaviors intended to threaten, humiliate, or intimidate; and work interference or even sabotage.
- Be honest with yourself. Understand that it may be tempting to discount or ignore that you are being bullied at work, thinking you might be reading the situation wrong. The truth is, if you suspect it’s happening, it probably is.
- Set boundaries. Draw the line and tell yourself you do not have to stand for this behavior and you will not allow yourself to be victimized. By managing your personal boundaries you will remain in charge of your values, decisions, behavior, and conduct.
- Get ready to confront the bully. Mentally prepare for your next interaction with the bully with the goal of handling it in the most self-preserving and self-protective way possible—while also sending a clear message that the bullying needs to stop.
- Make a formal complaint. Talk to your boss and provide specific details about the bullying behavior and how it is impacting you and your work. Ideally, as a result, bullies should receive negative consequences; otherwise, behavior that goes unpunished or that is rewarded will only contribute to future bullying occurrences. If your boss is the bully, talk to your company’s human resources representative.
- Seek alternative employment, if necessary. Being bullied can cause physical, mental, and emotional harm and could also cause long-term career problems. If your workplace will not change, plan your escape to a non-hostile work environment in which colleagues consider one another’s viewpoints, listen openly with respect, and are able to agree to disagree and move forward.