Sometimes bullying doesn’t end with high school graduation. Do you have any suggestions or advice for dealing with adult bullies in the workplace?
We spend a lot of time looking at bullying in schools and while it is certainly a cause for concern and serious work, I think that adult bullies can be twice as bad. With kids, we can assign consequences. They may not always be effective, but in a lot of cases consequences together with education can curb potentially harmful behavior before it escalates. But what are the consequences for adults? You can’t put adults in time-out and some adults could really use it!
With adults, especially in the workplace, we have to employ different strategies. First, its important to make yourself aware of your employer’s policies on things like sexual harassment. Many employers have begun to clarify not only what is unacceptable behavior in the workplace, but also where you should go to file a grievance. Does your office have a Human Resources department or person? If so, check into what their policies are for dealing with inappropriate behavior in the workplace.
Unfortunately, most workplace bullying doesn’t fall into the sexual harassment category. Instead, you have a performance-based environment where people are competing for respect and position, pay and benefits. Sometimes the workplace itself breeds this type of hostile environment – i.e. male dominated fields such as police stations or maybe car dealerships or female dominated fields like nursing. Sometimes the problem resides with one person and for whatever reason – insecurity, inferiority or maybe just plain meanness – that person has found bullying to be an effective means for getting what they want.
If you’re lucky enough to have an open and understanding boss (and assuming your boss is not the problem), it would be a good idea to have a conversation with them. Approach the situation not as the victim but instead as a collaborator seeking a mutually agreeable resolution to an important problem. If the problem persists, document it. Write professional, dated letters documenting each incident and whatever actions were taken to remedy them. Following your company’s internal protocols for dealing with workplace issues can be really important in maintaining a healthy and stable position for yourself.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to draw clear boundaries for yourself and to enforce those boundaries. Repeat after me…”I do not appreciate you speaking to me like this” or maybe “It is not necessary for you to treat me disrespectfully. I’m sure we can find a way to resolve this issue.” Bullies aren’t used to being challenged and you may find that asserting your right to be treated respectfully is enough to deflect bullying behavior away from you.
Ultimately, you are the only person who is going to advocate for yourself so don’t be afraid to do so. Workplace bullying is rampant and one of the reasons is because very few people stand up for themselves. And those who do are not always met with the support they need. This is a shameful truth, but I hope you will believe me when I say that your mental well-being is very important and if your workplace cannot support that, it may be time to start looking for opportunities elsewhere. Take care of yourself.
Note: You may find the resources at WBI – The Workplace Bullying Institute useful depending on your particular situation.
Don't be shy! Say what's on your mind and get a good dose of perspective in return.