What NOT TO DO When Being Bullied At Work
What Not To Do When Bullied At Work
Bullying Doesn't Happen Only On The Playground
We are all adults here. We know about bullies at school: we may even remember incidents of bullying during our student careers. But when we graduate from school, and get jobs, we expect it to stop, right? We're grown up. How can anyone bully an adult?
The sad reality is, people can be bullied at any age and in any situation. The tactics may change but the behaviour is sadly not that different. Adults are bullied at their workplace on a regular basis. A study from the Economic and Social Research Institute, from Ireland in 2007, found that 7.9 % of adults had been bullied in the workplace in the last six months. A study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute discovered that 35% of Americans had experienced workplace bullying, and an additional 15% had witnessed it happening to others, for a staggering total of 50% of people being involved in bullying, either as a target or a bystander.
I Was Bullied At Work
I have been bullied at work. For professional reasons, I don't feel comfortable sharing of all the details, but I can share what mistakes I made in handling the bully and what I learned. After doing a lot of research to understand my situation, and after much reflection, I saw that I made a lot of mistakes. I don't blame myself, because few of us are automatically equipped to deal with workplace bullying. We don't expect it, and it takes us by surprise. It is often only after going through it, that we gain a very painful education.
I learned from my experiences and I will share those lessons with you. Based on some of my own mistakes, I would like to share ten things not to do when being bullied at work. I hope that some of these strategies will be helpful for those who are now going through it, or have come out of a situation.
I want to stress that even if you are making, or made, all of these mistakes, don't feel bad. It's normal and these lessons are not designed to make you feel bad, but rather to help you feel hope. Here they are, ten things NOT to do when being bullied in your workplace.
I Thought It Was My Fault
When I was bullied, I blamed myself, constantly searching to see what I might have done wrong to provoke such attention from the person who had intimidated me.
This came from being insecure and tending to second-guess myself. Bullies often do sense when someone is sensitive and and target that vulnerability.
Because I was so busy second-guessing myself, I had few resources left to handle the attacks when they came.
It took me a long time to let that go, and believe in myself, again, but I do believe that my confidence now is stronger than it was before.
Don't Blame Yourself
1. Don't Blame Yourself
When we are bullied, we tend to think that it means we are not a good worker, or perhaps even not a good person. In other words, we start to believe the words that the bully is saying, or implying about us. We start to blame ourselves.
But please, REMEMBER THIS! You don't deserve to get bullied! No one does, but the bully wants you to think they you do. Don't give into the lies. No one is perfect, and if you are trying your best to do a good job, that is all anyone can ask of you.
If they are unhappy with some specific aspect of your performance, they are obligated to tell you in a professional, direct way, not to intimidate you into not believing in yourself.
According to this BullyOnline, a site from the U.K. devoted to helping with bullying, a target is often chosen because of their strength, not their weakness.
This goes against the stereotype of a culture of a victim being a weakling man on the beach having sand kicked in his face by a muscular winner, but I think there's a bit of truth in both paradigms.
First of all, the abuser is bothered by a strength he sees in his target that he does not have. Perhaps it's that she is more intellectual, or more organized. Then, the bully will be bothered by that strength, out of jealousy, and find a way to "get in" and bother that person.
So, there is a good chance you are actually being picked on because you are a good person, an honest person, a hard worker. Maybe people feel comfortable with you. It DOESN"T MEAN YOU ARE A BAD PERSON!
So, remember don't blame yourself. This is hard to do, but you have to try. This is a test of your emotional, mental and spiritual strength. It is not easy to be belittled, ostracized and called out for no reason. It's not easy but I do believe that we come out stronger from the experience.
I Obsessed About It
When bullying behaviour kept occurring at work, I could not get it off of my mind. I am naturally conscientious, and it really bothered me when someone did not seem to be pleased with my work.
I spoke about with my husband, to the point where he got tired of hearing about it, and I could not let it go. I became somewhat obsessed with the problems I was dealing with at work.
2. Don't Obsess About It
If you are experiencing work problems, it is sometimes very difficult to let things go. It is easy to go over and over in your mind, wondering why it is happening, and considering what you could have done differently.
This is a mistake. Obsessing about it takes away all your power, and makes you start to feel weak. This behaviour can also mean that you start to feel confused, wondering how much is your fault and how much is their fault.
An unwavering fixation on the problem can lead you into addictions, as you try to escape from what is happening. Recent parliamentary changes in Canadian laws acknowledged a connection between suicide and workplace bullying.
This moving article tells of the author's own experience with her father committing suicide from experiencing workplace abuse. There is no doubt that it is very hard to not fixate on it. In order to get out of the cycle, it is usually necessary to take some kind of action, either by getting intervention, receiving counselling, or doing something to confront your intimidator. Doing nothing leads to internalizing it more and more, sometimes being unable to control the feelings.
During your time off, try to stop thinking about it for a while, and focus on other things. You won't solve it by thinking about it day and night. If you have faith, I would also recommend prayer.
I Assumed Things Would Get Better
As a natural optimist, I did not want to believe that I was being bullied. I figured it was just the flush of a new job, a temporary state, that would end soon.
It didn't end. In fact, it got worse as time went on. I allowed small things in the beginning, and so bigger liberties were taken.
3. Don't assume things will get better.
It's often hard to know if it's really bullying or if it's just normal work relations. But if you really are being bullied at work, there's a very good chance it won't get better. The dynamic has been set up, and there is a good chance it will continue until some action is taken to stop it.
Many bullies are serial offenders, which means that they will choose one or two people to target, and keep bullying that person until they are forced to stop, or find a better target. If it wasn't you, they would have to find someone else, because it's part of their make up.
It is their problem, which means it is natural for them. The only motivation for them to stop will be when someone proves that they refuse to be bullied, or another person forces them to stop. In fact, it will likely get worse as the harasser becomes more confident in her ability to get away with inappropriate behaviour.
I Failed To Document
The single biggest mistake I made when enduring my bullying is that I failed to document what was going on until it was too late.
I had a feeling in the back of my head that I should have been writing some of these things down, but denial is easy to fall into. I kept thinking, "it's not that bad," until I could no longer deny it.
When I went to talk to people who might be able to help me, they all wanted to see my documentation, and mine was not consistently taken. Therefore, they weren't able to help me.
4. Don't Fail To Document
Documenting your experience is the NUMBER ONE thing to remember when dealing with a bully at work. If you don't keep track of what is happening, then in the eyes of the law, and other people, it didnt' happen.
The only hope you have of ever confronting the issue in any formal manner, is to show what happened. You can only do that through documenting every incident, even if it is small, so that you can show the pattern of what is happening.
This article tells you more about how to document incidents as they happen. You need to write it down if you are going to ever be able to get help, or even prove that it was happening. There is now even an app to help in the documenting process called BullyProofAssistant.
This is important for whatever you decide to do. If you try to fight it through Human Resources, they will need a written record of what was happening. If you go to a lawyer or your union, they also will need to see documentation.
Even if you decide not to pursue recourse, you will rest easier knowing that you could, if you wanted to. Documentation is even good for your mental well-being, as you can view evidence that you have not been making these things up.
How To Document Properly
When documenting inappropriate behaviour, do so in a non-emotional way. Keep your notes terse and to the point. Leave out big explanations of how it made you feel: just write down what happened. Here are two examples, one of how not to document, and one of how to document.
How not to document bullying: Oh man, my boss was so mean to me today! She would not get off my back, and I felt like she liked me less than all the other girls in the office. I can't stand it when she always picks on me for no reason. I felt like crying when she spoke to me so rudely. She actually had the nerve to ignore me during the staff meeting! It makes me wonder if my suggestions are no good, or if she just doesn't like me because I might get the next promotion.
How to document bullying: April 11, 2012: This morning I finishing up some paper work, when my boss came into the office and came directly to my cubicle and asked loudly, "what are you doing, Cynthia? You should be keeping busy even when I am not around." She said this in a serious tone that did not indicate a joking manner. She then walked away.
At 2:00 p.m., during the staff meeting, I brought a suggestion about hiring a person for the summer and she ignored me, and immediately started talking to another staff member. When I tried to bring it up again, she did not respond to my request at all, and asked a question of someone else.
Always Document Everything
I Allowed Secret Meetings
When I went through my bullying situation, I often heard about decisions, policies and even my position, through private one-on-one meetings, which were not recorded.
Therefore, later on, I could not prove it to anyone that these meetings had happened.
Now I know that any meeting that affects my job or my position, should be documented, especially if bullying has already occurred.
5. Don't Allow "Secret Meetings"
I found out this one from a friend that worked as a warden for many years at a prison. He told me that you should never allow any meeting to take place without having a paper trail of it. So, if your boss pulls you aside for a "secret meeting," insist that you receive an e-mail outlining everything that happened during the meeting.
If your boss neglects to do this, then send him a e-mail outlining everything that happened in the meeting, and ask him to confirm. In some cases, you may also want to send a CC to someone else in the company, such as someone in the HR department.
Of course, this is not necessary for small detailed assignments, but if anything is said regarding your performance, changes to company policy, or anything else that seems important, you need to have it documented. Otherwise, if you act on what you are told in the meeting, and there is no record, you could have your head on the chopping block.
This is absolutely crucial, and anyone in HR knows that they are responsible for the things they say to employees. If you have been privy to a "secret meeting," there is a good chance they are trying to get away with something.
Another tactic of workplace harassment is to actually leave people out of workplace meetings that they should be invited to. If this happens, keep a record of the meeting, when it happened, and why you should have been invited.
I Was Intimidated
For those of us raised to be "nice girls" or maybe "nice boys," workplace harassment can come as quite a shock to us. When it first started to happen, I did not know what to do.
I had been raised to be obedient to your boss, and to not rebel against authority. I honestly didn't know what to do because I knew it was wrong, but did not have the tools to deal with this. So, I did nothing. I let this person intimidate me.
What I should have done was to document it, and then taken some kind of action. I should not have allowed that, because it opened the door for other incidents of disrespect.
I f I was ever put in a similar situation today, I would want to take action right away. Even though my personality still makes it difficult to confront someone like this, I know that allowing it will only let it get worse.
6. Don't Allow Yourself To Be Intimidated
This is the hardest thing to do when someone is trying to intimidate you: to not be intimidated. But just remember that if someone is trying to intimidate you, it is aggression. They are doing it deliberately. They think they can intimidate you.
Just remember that you have just as much right to be at that workplace as they do. You were hired to do a job, and have been given legitimacy by being hired. Even if the person is your supervisor or has been there longer than you, they don't have the right to make you feel small or less.
Don't allow the inappropriate behavior. It the bully says something that is clearly not in line, acknowledge it and address the inappropriateness in a polite but firm tone.
Of course, it it important to distinguish between warranted discipline by the boss and inappropriate action. If you need to do better or get your work done better, your supervisor has the obligation to let you know. But she does not have the right to watch you constantly for mistakes, call you out loudly in front of other employees or insult you personally.
There is a lot of information about how to deal with bullies, each with its own viewpoint. The site, KickBully.com, outlines how to understand the bully, and in essence, beat him at his own game. Other sites, such as BullyOnline, focus more on getting outside intervention with your problem.
Whichever way you go, plan your approach and make a promise to yourself that you will not allow this to go on indefinitely. You will either learn to confront, and communicate with the harasser in a way that is effective, you will try to get outside help, or you will leave. It is intolerable to not to do anything for too long.
I Was New
I was new to the system, and therefore had not built up any alliances of my own. This is one of the hazards of being new.
7. Don't isolate yourself
One of the bully's tactics will often be to isolate you from fellow workers by encouraging gossip about you, by allowing fellow employees to bully you, as well.
As you become more and more of the obvious target in the workplace, other employees may feel that it is not in their career's best interest to align themselves with someone that the boss doesn't like. You may lose people you thought were friends.
The important thing to do, is not give in to this. Keep your relationships with co-workers as strong as you can. You may lose some "friends," but keep the real friends close to you. Let them know what is going on, without going on and on about it, but acknowledge that it happening. You need support during this time.
You may be tempted to cut yourself off because the harassment is making you feel bad about yourself, but don't succumb to those feelings. Fight through and keep the friendships strong.
I Was Told I Had No Recourse
In my case, I reached out to my union and was told that I had no recourse. Later on, I talked to that same union, but a different individual, and he said that the first person was incorrect. I lost valuable time and did not get the help I needed.
I did finally reach out to several people, but by that time, I was emotionally worn down, and not documented enough to prove everything. Reaching out sooner could have made things a lot better for me.
8. Don't Wait Too Long To Ask For Help
Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you are going through this type of experience, you may feel embarrassed to ask for help, and that is understandable.
But don't wait too long to ask for help, because the longer you wait, the more beaten down you can start to feel. It's better to ask for help early on, so that you can learn your rights, and also know that you are not alone.
Possible people to talk to are your Human Resources department of your company, a wise friend, a counsellor or a pastor. This excellent article by Patty Inglish MS. gives excelllent advice in dealing with the bully and also brings up using the EAP services at your company, or your union.You may also consider talking to a lawyer about your rights.
Asking for help can be problematic, too. You don't always know if they will be willing to stand up for you. Sometimes HR departments are part of the problem, too.
Also, if someone tells you that you don't have a case, don't take their word for it. Try talking to another person, because you don't know if they perhaps are not knowledgeable, are afraid to cause waves, or are part of what is happening.
But whatever you do, get help as soon as you realize that it really is happening. In this situation, waiting does not benefit. You need to bolster your strength by getting support while you still have your confidence left. After continued harassment, it is harder to reach out.
I Gave Into Emotional Eating
During the time of being bullied at work, I felt extreme stress and found it hard to take time for myself.
I gained weight from eating emotinoally and failing to exercise. I turned to the addiction of food. This did not help the situation, and only made me feel worse.
Take Care Of Yourself
9. Don't Forget To Take Care of Yourself
When a person goes through the experience of workplace harassment, it is very emotionally taxing. A person can feel confusion, high stress, doubt, anger and helplessness. To deal with this power keg of emotions, it is extremely important to take care of yourself even more than you usually do.
When faced with stressful situations, some of us turn to addictive behaviours, others may experience family conflict, or use escapism to get their mind off it. These are all negative ways of dealing with stress, and hurt more in the long run.
Try to eat right, take some time for some exercise, and do some things that you enjoy. If the boss is piling extra work on you, don't let it consume your whole life. Take a break.
Take time with your family and friends, and talk to them about what is happening, too. This is an excellent article that talks about self-care when being bullied.
10. Don't Stay Too Long
The decision of whether or not to stay in a harassment situation is a very personal one. If you are willing to stay and fight it in whatever way that is advisable, then perhaps you will be able to make a difference with your actions. You can't change the bully himself, but you may be able to shine some truth into what is happening, and help stop it from happening to other people.
If the situation is getting to you, though, don't stay too long. Your health and well-being is more important than money. Don't let yourself get so beaten down that you lose your confidence for the next job. This is your decision, but listen to what your body is telling you. If you are always stressed, with no relief, your body may be telling you that it's time to move on.
I Left The Situation
In my case, I chose to leave the situation. I could have stayed and tried to change things, but I found the emotional toil had been too high. I needed to get out and to recuperate.
Everyone has different strengths. You have to look at what you are called to do. If you have tried to fight it and haven't received support from the superiors, you may not choose to go any further with it.
Whatever you decide, please know that it is possible to get over the trauma that can occur from workplace bullying, and feel good again. And I think it is comforting to know that you are not alone, by any measure. I think the more we all start to talk about this travesty that happens daily in our workplaces, the better off we will be.
- Do You Know a Bully at Work? How to Handle the Office Bully and Abuse: Financial, Verbal, Emotional,
Al types of bullying can occur in the workplace. Be aware of what may happen to you or your children at work, and help to spread the word. Some US States are considering Anti-Workplace Bullying laws.
- Workplace Bullying
Work Shouldn't Hurt! A comprehensive site on workplace bullying with easy-to-understand articles and statistics about this prevalent problem.
- Trauma Information Pages * Comprehensive Resources on Traumatic-Stress, PTSD & Dissociation
Educational site focused on emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (ptsd) affecting individuals or communities (e.g., natural or man-made disasters). Trauma information for clinicians, researchers, students; supportive links for public o
- How to Handle Workplace Bullying
What to do if you are being bullied in the workplace.