Workplace bullying has become a strategic tool to push employees to leave companies voluntarily. Isolation, intimidation and threats are just a few tactics bullies use to strip someone of their power and identity. The reasons could be as simple as feeling threatened by someone’s success, personality or being insecure with themselves as a whole.
The behaviors, tactics and language bullies use can turn what appeared to be a welcoming and friendly environment into a culture of fear. Research shows workplace bullying not only impacts one’s happiness but injures their health, productivity and self-confidence leaving victims feeling stuck and powerless. Polls conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute show 30% of employees suffer from PTSD due to how intolerable their working lives have become.
Every day, an employee is being bullied in the workplace. I know, because I am a tenured HR professional who has, at one point, been bullied by a manager. In the beginning, it was difficult to understand what was happening. The bullying started as belittling comments then quickly turned into isolation and fear based behaviors.
When it comes from a manager or team as a whole, the options of who to confide in become limited. In turn, victims internalize the comments, behaviors and isolation leaving them battling a mix of emotions from feeling embarrassed and alone to intimidated and depressed.
Workplace bullying exists across various businesses and industries today, yet it’s one of the most unspoken topics. Citation, an HR and Health and Safety support company, recently surveyed 1,000 individuals to understand the top reasons why 55% of employees leave their job within 12 months of starting. The survey results were shocking. 69% of employees admitted to leaving their job within the first year due to bad management and 62% left due to hostile working environments.
Glassdoor and Indeed reviews are typically great resources for spotlighting poor internal company cultures yet fail to publicly address cultures of bullying. The unfortunate reality is bullies are strategic and conscious about making their moves in private with little to no paper trail.
The Workplace Bullying Institute released another report in 2017 with some alarming statistics. The report showed:
61% of bullies are bosses who operate alone
61% of employees are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace
19% have experienced it and another 19% have witnessed it
29% of victims remain silent
65% of bullied employees lose their jobs
80% of women bully other women
What’s more haunting is studies have shown that women who work for women experience a greater frequency of bullying, abuse and job sabotage. In a world where women are supposed to band together in unity, they’re instead using their power and authority to keep others beneath them.
Here are the four tactics to handle bullying in the workplace and the ways to dismantle the culture of fear before it becomes toxic.
Address The Situation Head-On
The thought of addressing a workplace bully head-on can be overwhelming and terrifying, especially if it’s a person more senior. Almost all companies have standard processes in place to handle bullying when it occurs between two employees, but the real challenge comes when the manager is the bully or worse, it’s coming from HR itself.
Examples of bullying in a workplace setting could involve being shut out of team meetings, colleagues threatening to replace you, a manager making jokes about one’s lifestyle or background, making offensive comments directly or indirectly or providing inaccurate information and withholding correct information that impacts the ability to perform their job.
While it’s tempting to seek revenge or stoop to their level, the best first step is addressing the situation on the spot. Sometimes this is exactly what the bully needs to realize they’ve overstepped boundaries. This can include addressing the jokes and comments—“If there’s an issue, let’s find time to discuss this in private. Your comments are inappropriate and I will not tolerate them”—or calling out the specific language and behavior and leaving the room or ending the call. As uncomfortable as it may be, practicing courage will show the bully you’re not as easy as a target as they initially thought.
Confide In A Confidant
Finding someone to confide in at work can be challenging if there aren’t any co-workers that can be 100% trusted. If there’s nobody at work that can be trusted, seeking out a confidant is the best next alternative. Victims of bullying are reluctant to speak out about what they’re going through. They’re often overcome with a sense of guilt believing they brought it upon themselves.
Studies show people who are bullied experience stress, damaged self-esteem, impaired physical and emotional health and weakened cognitive functioning. Having someone to confide in can help victims see they’re not the problem and they’re not alone. Feeling helpless and disempowered at a place where one-third of your life is spent can lead to depression and in some severe cases, suicide.
Document Every Detail, Big And Small
What allows workplace bullying to get out of control and go undisciplined is the lack of evidence associated with it. Taking a proactive approach and documenting all incidents with the date and time will help expose patterns of behavior and create a timeline of events. If there were any witnesses, make sure to include them in the document as well. According to the law, employees much show they were specifically targeted.
HR is a great resource to utilize to gain more information and bring it to their attention. In unfortunate cases like mine where I was in HR being bullied by my own manager and team, finding a confidant or seeking legal advice is the next best alternative. Lawyers will want to see concrete evidence of every incident that occurred and the negative impact it’s had on carrying out job duties. Keep documentation as fact-based as possible to build a credible case.
Stick To Facts And Report Higher
The key is remaining calm and presenting facts without allowing the emotions, particularly anger, take over. If having a meeting and confronting the manager or individual has occurred and nothing has improved, the next step is to report it to a senior ranking person above them. Often times their boss is unaware of the situation and can offer solutions to prevent it from continuing such as relocating or changing jobs within the company.
If the abuse continues or gets worse and HR fails to act, there are employment laws to protect you. Seeking out the advice of an employment attorney can help explain rights and guidance on proper next steps to seek legal action. This is why proper and detailed documentation is crucial. It shows this is not just a one-time incident, but a series of occurrences that have hindered an employees safety, health and performance.
The damage of bullying is long-lasting and no employee should have to put up with hostile working conditions. Some victims are left so damaged they are unable to reintegrate back into the workforce for fear it’ll happen again.
If you’re a witness to workplace bullying I encourage you to speak up and report it. Victims are often too embarrassed to speak up for themselves or don’t know who to turn to for help. It’s our duty as humans to make sure we’re being treated as such, in and outside of the workplace.