How to deal with bullying in the workplace (infographic)

Bullying is a major problem wherever it happens, whether it is in the playground or the workplace. But while schoolyard bullies can be dealt with by talking to their teacher or parents, it can be much more complicated resolving bullying issues amongst supposed grown-ups in the world of work. However, that doesn’t make it any less of a problem, with 60.4m Americans affected by bullying in the workplace.

Even more worrying, 29% of people targeted by bullies stay quiet about the problem, meaning their bosses may have no idea what is going on. But with 40% of these targets suffering adverse health effects because of what they are experiencing, it is a problem that we all need to do more to put a stop to. Bullying in the workplace can lead to companies losing talented employees and if it isn’t dealt with, it can establish an unwanted culture that leads to a wider exodus.

But what should be done to resolve bullying in the workplace?

How to cope when you are the target of bullying

Being bullied makes you feel isolated, scared, humiliated and vulnerable. If you keep all of this to yourself, it can lead you down a spiral towards feelings of shame because of what is happening to you, despite you being the victim of it. That’s why one of the most important things you can do in this situation is to talk about it, whether it is with a friend, family member, colleague or therapist. Don’t let your feelings fester.

Getting a sympathetic ear is one thing but you also need to speak up quickly when it comes to informing your company about what is going on. Doing this early can actually stop it from happening again, with research showing that the more stressed you become, the more likely you are to be targeted again. This could mean escalating it with your manager or it could mean discussing it with the person you feel is bullying you, whichever you are most comfortable with.

If the situation does need to be escalated, there are steps you can take to make sure things run smoothly. The first is to document everything you can, particularly any abusive emails, notes and messages that can prove your allegations have substance if it comes down to a tribunal or court case. The testimonies of any witnesses to this bullying behavior would also be incredibly helpful in backing you up.

It’s also essential at this stage to review your company’s policies on bullying to see if there is anything in there that matches up with what is happening to you, as that could be key in getting your bosses to take it seriously. You may even need to consult an employment attorney to get an expert opinion on your situation and what your next steps should be.

All of this will take a toll on you, so you also need to look after your mental health. A study showed that it can cause mental distress, fatigue, anxiety, depression and inflammation, so finding ways to keep busy outside of work can help you cope with whatever you’re having to face as you try to end the bullying.

How to deal with bullying as a witness

Bullying doesn’t have to happen directly to you to be something that affects your happiness in the workplace. It can feel awkward to find yourself in the middle of a difficult situation involving your colleagues, so what can you do that won’t implicate you further into the mess? The bravest thing to do is to call the bully out for their behavior, which can create conditions for empathy, compassion, co-operation and egalitarian moral values for the whole group.

In the schoolyard there can be negative associations with being a ‘snitch’ but as grown-ups we really need to have moved beyond that culture of fear, so if you witness a colleague being bullied, you should feel able to report it to a manager to try and get it stopped quickly. Research from 2018 showed that if an unfavourable outcome follows an action (like getting in trouble for bullying), it is less likely to be repeated.

This doesn’t always mean alerting your bosses, it can sometimes be even more powerful to get colleagues onside. Using this collective power to discourage any further bullying - without ganging up on the ‘bully’, as this can make things even worse - can help change the culture of the workplace, while any additional evidence gathering they can offer helps build the case to get the behavior stopped.

Looking after the target of the bullying is also an important role you can play. Just as a bullied school child can feel - and even be - safer from further ill treatment if they have friends sticking by them, this can be the case in the workplace too. Keep an eye on them and offer to accompany them to anywhere that might seem like another opportunity for bullying to take place.

How to deal with bullying as a manager

Being a manager in a situation where one of your team is bullying another is never easy. It means taking sides between people you need to be working together and can cause irreparable damage to your professional and personal relationship with one or other of them. Or both of them if you handle it badly. Almost certainly the worst thing you can do is to ignore the situation altogether, even if this feels like the easiest option at first.

Instead, you need to deal with it directly and swiftly, with a study from the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology finding that there is a relationship between laissez faire managers and bullying in the workplace. So call a meeting with the person accused of bullying and be sure to document it thoroughly to protect yourself further down the line if the meeting doesn’t go the way you’d hope.

You need to assume responsibility for the issue as a good manager, with research from UMIST showing that when employers fail to do this, it creates a major risk factor for bullying, which means it’s likely to keep happening and even spread. This kind of culture can be very difficult to fix later on and can result in your company or team losing valuable members who don’t want to be a part of it.

The most effective way to deal with bullying is to establish clear rules and consequences, because the threat of punishment makes people act more fairly. This has to be done consistently, with transparent policies to back up the consequences for bad behavior, so ensure you have a bullying policy in place to set a precedent for how the company will act in these situations.

Bullying in the workplace is a difficult problem to deal with as a manager or a witness, but the emphasis should always be on the target of it, and ensuring that they can feel safe and happy in their jobs without fear of being victimised. These tips should help you deal with the situation no matter what role you are having to play in it, as well as to put things in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in the future.

How to deal with a bully in the workplace, according to experts (infographic)

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