It is easy to think that bullying is something that only happens to children but the sad truth is that it is all too common in the workplace.
On Sunday night, do you dread going to work?
Do you ruminate constantly about work even when you are at home?
Are you relieved when you are ill because you have a reason not to go to work?
When you are not at work do you do things to try to stop thinking about work like drinking too much?
Do you feel exhausted and run down a lot of the time?
If you said yes to any of these it could be that you are being bullied at work.
As adults we can be reluctant to admit that bullying is taking place but given the consequences for our careers, health and mental well-being it is important that we recognise it for what it is.
The problem is that often bullying at work is far more subtle than when we were children. While children might engage in more direct forms of bullying such as name calling and physical violence, adult bullies are more likely to use indirect methods that are harder to identify and most importantly to show evidence for.
The first step is to realise what is happening.
Some of the telltale signs of indirect bullying are when
- When your boss creates situations that leave you feeling shame and humiliation
- When your boss magnifies your mistakes beyond what is reasonable
- When your boss spreads rumours about you that are not true
- When your boss makes arbitrary decisions that undermine the legitimate business interests of your company
- When your boss does things that make others stop talking with you
- When your boss never leaves you to get on with your job but constantly interferes
Sometimes bullies don’t know they are bullies, but they behave in these ways because they are poor leaders.
A good leader will always have a quiet word with you and support your learning and development and help you find solutions for yourself when things are not going well. A good leader will help you to understand and take control of your work. Not everyone has these skills however and it might be that when the bully better understands what they are doing they will change.
Other times, however, bullies are just that. Talking to them directly about their behaviour is only likely to cause more problems.
They may have low self-worth and bullying is their way to make themselves feel more worthy. Too often they are people who are themselves ill equipped for the job they are doing and by putting the spotlight on others they hope to avoid their own inadequacies being exposed. They may have deep seated personality issues that mean they are unable to self-reflect on what they are doing.
Whatever the reason, you shouldn’t need to put up with it.
If you think you are being bullied, options are:
- Talk to others who you feel safe with. It may be happening to others too.
- Find out what support your organisation offers.
- Contact your union for a chat and see what your options are.
- Speak to your manager.
- Keep a record of their bullying behaviour.
- There may be legal issues if discrimination is also involved.
- Whatever else, don’t resign unless you have a new job to go too.
Sometimes these steps will be enough. Bullies don’t want to be exposed and might back off if they think this is likely to happen. When good companies realise that they have a problem they will want to help.
If you have experiences of bullying what did you do? Share your advice here if it might help others.