How to handle bullying in the workplace


The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

• Verbal abuse
• Offensive conduct/behaviours (including non-verbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
• Work interference (sabotage) which hinders/prevents victims from getting their work done.”

Bullying often goes unnoticed in the workplace because it is a slow process of psychological and emotional manipulation that is often hard to detect and prove.

Bullying does not only come from those who are in positions of power. It can come from peers and co-workers. If bullying continues to occur without being dealt with, it can lead to various issues in the workplace, including:

• Stress
• Loss of interest in job
• Poor work performance
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Overall damage to all aspects of your life, personally and professionally.

Signs that you might be bullied in the workplace include but are not limited to:

• You are relentlessly criticized publicly, belittled, or teased
• You experience subtle verbal abuse including public or private dress-downs and whispered or shouted criticisms.
• When you think about going to work, you feel sick; the physical and psychological repercussions mount.
• You are held to standards that are different from your peers.
• Every decision you make is called into question, even the tiny ones.
• You are frequently being isolated by your colleagues or the boss, either physically or socially.
• You become a prey of sabotage as the bully ensures that you often fail your tasks, including simple ones.
• A bully may even increase your responsibilities with the intention that you fail in handling them all at once and eventually fail in completing your work.

It is important to note that bullying must not be confused with being reprimanded for poor work performance, however there are clearly defined processes in the workplace on how to manage poor work performance and your line manager should use such processes and not bully you or embarrass you in front of co-workers.

If you feel that you are bullied in the workplace, the following are suggestions on how to deal with a workplace bully:

1. Try not to get emotional as bullies derive pleasure from emotionally manipulating you. Stay calm and sensible so that you can resolve the issue.

2. Document all your bullying experiences immediately so that you do not forget any information. This will help you to recover the control of the situation. Also include the actual dates of when the bullying occurred and by whom. If a bully is attempting to make you look bad or imply you’re not doing your job, you can ask for written confirmation and details that he/she will have to own up to when questioned. Communicate via email when dealing with a bully so you have a written record of the communication. If you’ve had a meeting with a bully, ensure you recap all the details in an email and distribute this after the meeting.

3. Remember that bullying may make you feel anxious, helpless and depressed. Seek support and don’t suffer in silence. Do not fear seeking the support of a therapist as they are trained professionals who will assist you to manage your wellbeing.

4. Although it might not be easy, do not shrink away when bullied. Bullies tend to back down when they are challenged.

5. Calmly stand up for yourself but remain polite and professional.

6. Choose the course of action that feels best for you and your situation.

7. If you are not comfortable speaking to the individual who is bullying you directly, then you might need to discuss it with your line manager or human resources. Try to remember that it’s part of your manager’s job to make sure everyone feels safe and happy at work. When addressing your concern with others, don’t play the blame game. Be sure to include its impact on productivity, wellbeing and morale coupled with some potential solutions.

8. Your wellbeing is most important, and without it, you’re no good to anyone, including yourself. If you have done all you can to eliminate the bullying but it’s still occurring, then it might be time to explore other options. Consider opportunities in other departments or with a new company altogether.

Remember: Don’t suffer in silence!

By Nonoshe Ramphele

Author avatar
Sihle Bolani

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