Perhaps a bit of a touchy subject, but what should you do if you are being bullied in the workplace? How do you even know if you are being bullied? And what should you do if you think someone else is a victim of bullying?
What Constitutes Bullying?
Bullying is defined as using a superior strength to make someone feel inferior or to force them to do something. It doesn’t have to be physical. An awful lot of the time it is verbal or emotional. Someone with a superior emotional strength can use it to bully a colleague. It doesn’t even have to be someone more senior – it could be a junior member of staff intimidating someone more senior. The latter happens less often, but it happens nonetheless – I’ve seen it before.
How do you know if you are being Bullied?
Sometimes it’s not that easy to spot. It can creep up on you without you consciously realising that it’s happening. There’s that story about the frog sitting in a pan of water on the stove. The water heats up so slowly that the frog doesn’t realise so it ends up just being boiled alive. That’s how bullying can be.
Bullying can start with someone just asking for a favour. Then they will ask something again in a situation where you can’t really say no (even though you want to) such as in front of other people. It will then escalate from there – often very slowly. The Bully might not even realise they are doing it. They carry on because having some level of power over you makes them feel good about themself.
They start to ask you to do things which seem unreasonable, but because you have said yes to something similar in the past, you feel like you can’t say no. Often they get addicted to the feeling of power that they have over you, and if they are your line manager or someone else more senior than you, often you can’t stand up for yourself.
I understand. I’ve been in that exact situation. I personally hate confrontation. I will say yes to someone just to avoid having a difficult conversation with them. That, in turn, just fuels the situation and it gets worse. You try and explain to friends and family how awful you feel, but they just tell you to “stand up for yourself” or to “tell HR” – both of which can be a terrifying prospect to someone.
What can you do?
First and foremost, you need an office friend. A buddy or someone you can trust to talk to. Trust me on this one, if you try and deal with this by yourself, the only way you will get past it is if you quit your job. You need someone to whom you can vent and let off some steam. Someone who you can call on to be your shoulder to cry on. Having an ally will be your saving grace in the office.
Secondly, you need to keep a diary of everything that happens. You will never remember everything, and if you ever find yourself in a meeting with HR, you will need all the events and dates to back up your story. You might feel really stupid writing things like “laughed at me in front of my colleague” or “told me to shush” or other things which seem insignificant on their own. But that’s just it. Bullying is generally a combination of hundreds of little things which on their own seem silly. But put them all together and you have something really serious.
I can’t encourage you enough to report what is happening to you. I know it can feel difficult- especially if your boss is very senior or even if they are the HR director or someone in your office who is the normal person to report these things to. Report it to anyone more senior than you. It’s the responsibility of all management to be approachable on matters like this. You have every right to tell any of them.
If you work for a really small company and you are being bullied – just leave. It will carry on until either you go or they do. If you have the opportunity to move within your company, try and do that. Even if you love your job, bullying will ultimately affect your health and your whole life. Don’t put up with it. You don’t have to.
I once interviewed someone who, when asked why they wanted to leave, told me they were being bullied. I stopped the interview there and then and got them to tell me everything. They were in floods of tears and hadn’t told anyone before. I commended them on having the courage to get out of their current role. I understand how difficult and awful the prospect is of having to hand your notice into your bully. And then having to work your notice with them.
Yes, you have an element of responsibility to report someone if they are bullying you, or someone else (if you are the “buddy” reading this) but above absolutely everything, you have a responsibility to yourself. You deserve to be happy in your job and to be treated with dignity and respect.
If you are being bullied and don’t know where to turn to, Citizens Advice have some help here. Alternatively, you can drop me an email and I will help you in any way I can – even if all you need is a sympathetic ear. I’m not qualified to help officially, but know that there is someone here who will listen and not judge.