If you’re breathing then most likely you have been exposed to bullying. As a society, we are all very aware of bullying in schools. When kids face the challenges associated with bullies we encourage them to seek out the help of responsible adults. We talk to our kids about love, acceptance, and tolerance. We tell them to stand up for themselves when appropriate. Many school districts have even established certain protocols which must be followed when handling these often delicate situations.
But what happens when bullying makes a leap from the schoolyard to the workplace? What advice should we dispense and follow then?
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute*, 35% of the U.S workforce has reported being bullied at work. WBI defines workplace bullying as either verbal abuse, offensive behaviors (non-verbal), or other intentional impairments that prevent work from being completed.
I can recall a workplace bully from my professional past. For the sake of this article, we’ll call her Debbie. Debbie would come to work in a sour mood, but she only showed that mood to her peers—never upper management. She’d often say and do inappropriate things that made others uncomfortable. She had specific targets of her rage and could be heard directly insulting her peers at any given moment. It was not uncommon to hear her say, “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” or “He messed that up big time,” when referring to another employees work. She took credit for work she didn’t complete and blamed others for mistakes that were her own. She would instigate an argument without warning and often schemed and plotted to the detriment of the team.
I know what you’re thinking. Debbie’s an absolute nightmare. I bet you’re also thinking about the Debbie’s in your life.
Sadly, Debbie is probably still making someone’s professional experience horrible because unfortunately, many states do not have explicit anti-bullying laws that apply to the workplace. And even more tragically, some workplaces encourage aggressive behavior either by facilitating a “by any means necessary” atmosphere or by not adequately punishing malicious behavior.
So what can you do?
- Speak up. Let your voice be heard. Let the bully know that you will not be a target. You don’t have to be aggressive or rude, but do be firm and confident in your stance. I was never a target for Debbie because her first attempt to bully me was thwarted by my assertion that I would not allow her to treat me with anything other than respect.
- Report the behavior. Even though some workplaces encourage bullying (either directly or inadvertently) it’s far better to have your complaint on record. Speak with your direct supervisor first, in order to respect the chain-of-command, but don’t be afraid to go to Human Resources or beyond if the desired affect is not achieved.
- Seek support. Bullying of any kind can take a major toll on a person’s mental and physical health. Most adults cannot afford to abruptly leave the workplace. Bullying can make a person feel trapped and helpless. Seek the support of a therapist, a group of friends, or a family member. And know that you are not the problem, the bully is.
- Consult a lawyer. Although at first glance, this may seem extreme, in some instances, the counsel of a lawyer will help you to more clearly see your options. A lawyer can help you to determine what legal recourse, if any, you may have against a stagnant, unresponsive employer.
- Cut your losses, and plan your graceful exit. If all else fails, realize that you do not have to subject yourself to a work environment that does more harm than good. There are many employers who will value and appreciate what you bring to the table and just as many workplaces that will provide you with a safe, sound, environment in which to thrive.
Have you ever been bullied at work? How did it impact your life? Were you able to resolve the problem, or did you plan and execute your own graceful exit?
Were you the bully? Have you been reformed, or are you still demonstrating malicious and aggressive behaviors at work? Could you benefit from counseling? Contact The Stone Foundation and let us give you the help you need to live a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life.
*For more information about workplace bullies, visit the Workplace Bullying Institute.
This article is intended for general educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. I you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please contact The Stone Foundation by clicking here or by phone at 410.296.2004.
Melissa Brooks-Cuffee holds two Bachelor of Science degrees from Towson University: one in Psychology, the other in English. She has sustained memberships with both the Psi Chi and Lambda Iota Tau honor fraternities, and is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. Melissa also volunteers with E-buddies–a program of Best Buddies International.
Over the last several years, Melissa has assumed various administrative roles within the healthcare and mental healthcare field. She demonstrates her strong desire to help those in need by offering quality care and compassion to the population she so fervently serves. At present, Melissa maintains the positions of Administrative Assistant and Online Marketing Specialist at The Stone Foundation. She is also a featured writer for The Stone Foundation’s Weekly Wisdom Online Publication and creates the visual content posted to The Stone Foundation’s Facebook Page