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Dealing with the Workplace Bully

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 31 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Dealing With The Workplace Bully

Bullying is something we more often than not tend to associate with our school days but you might be surprised to learn that bullying in the workplace is more prevalent than you might think.

What Constitutes Workplace Bullying?

There are many different types of actions and behaviours which could be said to constitute some form of workplace bullying. It doesn’t need to be intentional. It can occur as a result of somebody’s unconscious action. In fact, in many instances, the so-called ‘bully’ might not even be aware that they are causing any harm but if the ‘victim’ perceives somebody else’s actions towards them to have caused them distress, humiliation or offence, then it could be construed as bullying.

Typical behaviours can include sexual or racial harassment, social exclusion or isolation, aggressive or threatening e-mails, blackmail or the more traditional form of bullying – physical assault but it is not limited to any of the aforementioned.

The Extent of the Damage Caused

It’s not simply the direct victim of bullying who is affected. Whilst they can feel deeply traumatised by the experience, workplace bullying can cost a company millions of pounds in lost productivity, absenteeism, low workplace morale and poor staff retention. However, for the victim themselves, bullying can provoke a vast range of medical conditions such as depression, headaches, anxiety, mood swings, lack of motivation and self-esteem and much more.

How to Deal With a Bully at Work

How you deal with a bully at work will often depend on your relationship to them. If it’s your boss, for example, you might be inclined to grin and bear the situation more than if it is just a work colleague who shares the same status as you. However, you should try to refrain from making those kinds of status separations. Bullying is bullying – simple as that - and, no matter who is the perpetrator and whatever your relationship to them, you should be prepared to confront the situation.

Firstly, you should keep a diary of all of the instances that take place which you feel could be construed as bullying. It’s also important to analyse these and to make sure that you are not over-reacting to somebody else’s behaviour but if you do feel strongly, one thing you can do is to pick a quiet moment and look to have a private conversation with the bully, explain how their behaviour makes you feel and to ask them to stop. Often, they may not even have realised that their behaviour was having this effect on you and so you can get a quick resolution.

However, it’s important to note that this approach is not always your best bet. It might enrage the bully further and encourage them to make your life even more difficult. Often, it’s better to seek out an ally or two amongst your trusted work colleagues first. Tell them how you’re feeling and ask them if they agree with you about the bully and their behaviour. Ensure that you have a copy of your actual job description and that you are fulfilling your role to the best of your ability. Quite often, bullies operate by attacking your workplace performance which might be completely unjustified and which you might be able to disprove with evidence.

Taking Your Case Further

Depending on who the bully is, you will be able to seek further advice and take further action if you think the behaviour is getting out of control. You might seek advice from your HR department, trade union representative or you might even wish to take the case to an employment tribunal. Bullying in the workplace is taken seriously and, if proven, you could be entitled to financial compensation.

Ultimately, depending on the specific circumstances, it may well be that it’s far easier in the long run to cut your losses and find another job. This might be especially true in those instances where it’s the owner of the company who is the bully. If you do choose to leave your job, you should not think of this as a defeat but as an example of how you’ve been the one who’s been able to take control of the situation.

Letting colleagues know why you are leaving is perfectly acceptable and may even help others when it comes to dealing with bullying in the future. However, as long as you remain assertive and maintain your self control throughout, no matter what the outcome is, you can be sure that it will be the bully who will both feel humiliated and will be perceived as weak by others. The important thing is not simply to accept the behaviour, to challenge it and to take appropriate action if necessary.

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