No (work)place for bullies: Stop a co-worker from bullying you

No (work)place for bullies: Stop a co-worker from bullying you

It turns out bullying is not just child's play.

Adults are commonly bullied, too. A 2010 survey showed more than one-third of employees, 35 percent, experienced bullying at work at some time, said Heather Geerts, clinical director of Rochester's Zumbro Valley Mental Health Center.

Verbal abuse, offensive behaviors, threats, intimidation and humiliation are all forms of workplace bullying.

Bullying, Geerts said, is carried out by individuals or groups, and is characterized as any kind of persistent, aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker. Sometimes these repeated mistreatments are health-harming.

So, if you get bullied at work, what can you do?


Situations vary, so "the first step is always to work with your human resources department to figure out what policies are in place for your particular agency," Geerts said. However, Workforce Bullying Institute surveys suggest responses to bullying are often ineffective. 

For example, confronting the bully successfully stops unwanted behavior only a little more than 3 percent of the time. An Australian study suggests employers are the ones who should take action and treat bullying like other occupational risks by identifying the hazard, assessing the risk, controlling it, then evaluating and reviewing the process.

If you don't have HR, Geerts said, follow company policy to find a designated supervisor. Below are selected bullying-related topics Geerts shared.

What does bullying include? Aggressive stares, laughing at the person, rolling eyes in response to a person, gestures, behaving in a way that makes it appear you will "come at" a co-worker, knocking something over to make a person trip, bumping into someone to cause him or her to drop something. 

Why does coworker bullying happen? To elicit fear, keep victim's self esteem low, prevent from demonstrating superior skills. Often, bullies themselves have low self esteem and lash out to make others look bad — and improve the bully's self image. Often, a bully has a diagnosable mental health issue, such as narcissism with self-aggrandizement. That means, clinically, he or she doesn't care how someone else feels — other people "are there to serve their needs." The bully is not able to understand that what they are doing is hurting someone else. That's why bullying can get out of hand.

When should you seek help? Has your anxiety about being bullied become so troubling you consider skipping work or actually take sick time? Are you depressed? Are you having anxiety attacks at work? Do you have to leave because of anxiety about facing the bully? Are you having nightmares, flashbacks and PTSD-like symptoms? Are you using drugs or alcohol to cope? Are you having thoughts about hurting yourself or other people who are bullying you? If any of the above are happening, seek help from HR, a supervisor or a therapist. If a supervisor is the bully, follow the chain of command.

What do you need to do?

1. Learn about your company's policies and procedures related to bullying. They might require specific actions on your part.


2. Document what actions are taking place and when.

3. Work with human resources on the best course of action to address the bullying.

What can you say? The first step in healthy conflict management is ask the person to stop the bullying behavior. Say something like, "I'm sorry, but that really hurt my feelings" or "I felt like that was hurtful, can you please stop?" Whether that will be effective will depend upon the situation. Some individuals, not having realized that their words or behaviors were hurtful, will immediately and sincerely apologize — and the behavior will not happen again.

What can you do as a witness or company leader? Your company should develop a specific plan ahead of time and you should understand it. The healthiest action is to support the target of bullying. Also, do not join in and reinforce the bullying behaviors.

Can you avoid the bully, or is excluding that person from from lunch bullying, too? It comes down to purpose. Are you trying to avoid that person to make him or her feel isolated, alone, humiliated or embarrassed? That's bullying. Or, are you avoiding the person because you don't want any longer to encounter the negativity the other employee displays toward you? That's an appropriate response. Again, perception plays a role. Someone might witness a behavior and not think it's bullying. But the person who experiences the behavior day after day might.

How do you know the difference between constructive criticism and bullying? Bullying repeats over time. Although the victim's perception plays a role, a worker's behavior toward another qualifies as bullying if it is meant to be abusive, threatening, humiliating or intimidating.

How do you know if you are the bully? Do people shy away from work with you? Do people not join your conversation? Do people appear afraid when near you? Or do they appear as if they're not sure what to say, because they're not sure how you're going to take it? 

What's OK and what's not? Ask yourself how would it make me feel? If you wonder if you should say something, maybe you shouldn't.

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