Are You Being Bullied at Work?

picture of boss standing over a scared employee working at a desk

Generally, we think about bullies as school children on playgrounds, in hallways, and walking home at the end of the day.  The unfortunate reality is that bullies do not always stop being bullies when they have grown into adulthood.  Bullies can be found at any age in almost any setting.  The workplace is the perfect environment for breeding a culture that accepts bullying.  According to the Washington State Bureau of Labor and Industries, workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or groups) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s).”

Examples of Bullying in the Workplace

Sometimes bullying in the workplace is noticeable and obvious.  Things like abusive language, teasing, belittling, overt violent or sexual intimidation, threats, intentionally presenting you or someone else with offensive materials or comments, or spreading hateful gossip about you or another employee are all considered workplace bullying.  There are also some more furtive ways that bullying can take place at work.  Bullying can be giving an excessive amount of work to a co-worker or an outranked employee and demanding that he or she complete it immediately.  It can also be denying access to the appropriate resources for the proper completion of a task, intentionally isolating you or another worker, writing inaccurate or unfair work assessments, displacing personal belongings, or giving you or a co-worker an impossible task or an impossible deadline knowing that failure is the only option.

In order to determine if you are being bullied, the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety recommends that you use the ‘reasonable person’ test. If you think that you may be being bullied, ask yourself if any other reasonable person would think that the behaviors you are enduring and the experiences that you are having are acceptable.  Are any criticisms that you are receiving reasonable, justified, and constructive?  Is your work meeting an acceptable standard?  Are you meeting the appropriate expectations?  If a reasonable person would not accept these behaviors, you may be getting bullied.  Bullies are trying to hurt you so they will not be likely to offer you any kind of support.

What Can You Do About Workplace Bullying?

There is no hard and fast rule about what should be done to curb workplace bullying.  Really, putting a stop to the abuse will depend on the willingness of your superiors and the company for which you work to listen to your concerns and to help you sort out a difficult situation.  The first step to take is usually keeping an account of the incidences of bullying that you experience.  You are building your case against the bully.  This is the evidence that you will use to confirm your claims.  Keep track of the dates, times, and specifics of the events including anyone else who was present so that they may be able to confirm your story.

Once you have a number of documented episodes, then you may be able ask the bully to stop his or her abusive behaviors.  You may want to have someone you trust present when you start this conversation so that the bully cannot claim that you said anything that you did not say or behaved in any kind of unseemly manner.  At this point, do not get into a debate with the bully.  State your piece, define the behavior that you find objectionable, and leave it at that.  Before approaching the bully directly, you may need to have a talk with your supervisor.  If the bully is your supervisor, you should move up the chain of management.  Continue on until you find someone who is going to listen to your claims and take them seriously.

You may feel like getting even with the bully and settling the score is your best option, but anything that you do in retaliation can weaken your case.  To management, it may start to look like a case of two employees who cannot get along rather than a true case of workplace bullying.  If the bullying gets to a point where you are in fear for your personal safety, you may need to talk to the police.  While technically, workplace bullying is unlikely to be a true crime, if you are being bullied because of your race, sex, religion, country of origin, or disability, you may be able to take action against a violation of your civil rights.