Any child being bullied at school dreams of growing up and growing out of this nightmarish situation. After all, when you are out of school, the daily routine of bullying is finally over, right? Not so fast. For many adults, the bullying of the schoolyard can carry over to the workplace.
Record numbers of people are reporting that they are being bullied at work. The anxiety and suffering caused by workplace bullying is very real, but many employers have been slow to recognise just how harmful it can be.
As a result, people who are being bullied at work are not always likely to report what is happening to them, and they don’t know where to turn. This leads to a further sense of isolation and helplessness, hindering career advancement and affecting mental health both at the office and during time off.
What is workplace bullying, and what can you do to face bullying in your job?
What Is Bullying In The Workplace?
While you might think of yourself as impervious to intimidation, bullying at work could come from anyone in your organisation. While it can come from your supervisor or manager, it can also come from a colleague at your same level, or even from one of your employees.
Bullying is repetitive behaviour that is meant to make you feel small and unsure about yourself and your work. It is not constructive feedback designed to help you improve in your job – its sole goal is to unnerve and upset you.
Some examples of bullying in the workplace include (but are not limited to):
- Insults or rudeness directed at your work
- Purposely excluding you from social events and activities
- Comments, insults, or compliments about your appearance that make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed
- Spreading rumours or making up falsehoods about you
- Purposely ignoring you
- Criticising aspects of your personal life
- Forcing you to work longer hours than your colleagues
- Assigning you degrading or pointless tasks
- Threatening you with any form of reprisal, including violence or career repercussions
- Unwanted sexual advances and sexual harassment
- Preventing you from receiving a promotion or other professional advantages
While these types of behaviour often come face to face, you can also be bullied via text message, social media, emails, telephone, or on noticeboards. It is no less serious when this happens, and should be handled as soon as possible.
Seven Main Types of Workplace Bullies to Look Out For
While bullying can take on many different forms, these are the seven main types of bullies in the workplace.
- The Two-Faced Bully – The two-faced bully lulls you into thinking that they are your friend, and that they are in your corner, but you soon find out that they are talking about you behind your back and spreading false gossip about you.
- The Extreme Critic – The extreme critic only ever has negative things to say to you about your work (and often your personality and appearance). They prefer to lob these critiques at you in private, when no one else can see just how poorly and cruelly they are behaving.
- The Narcissist – The narcissist always has to be the centre of attention, and can only handle positive compliments. If you point out a valid critique in their work, they will sulk, pout, and try to strike back at you in any way they can. This can include making up stories about you, and looking for problems in your work when there are none.
- The Power Tripper – This person likely has a small amount of power over others in the office, and gets a big kick out of using it to their advantage. They will act as an obstacle between you and a promotion, take credit for your work, and employ the ‘silent treatment’ against you whenever you do something they don’t like.
- The Prankster or Jokester – This type of bully often gets away with a lot of what they do by making it ‘all a joke.’ If you protest, you will likely be accused of not being able to take a joke, and you will likely be told to relax. They tend to say truly offensive and inappropriate things and get away with them in the pretence of ‘just kidding around.’
- The Saboteur – The saboteur always seems to leave you out of the loop by ‘forgetting’ to copy you in on an important email or alerting you about an updated deadline. As a result, you always seem to be one step behind, struggling to catch up.
- The Gossip – The gossip thrives on making up salacious, hurtful, and downright untrue rumours about you and spreading them throughout the office. They share personal information about people, and thrive when they are at the centre of drama and chaos.
The Negative Effects of Being Bullied at Work
If you are being bullied at work, you might be facing some of the stressful and painful effects listed below.
- A loss of career opportunities and room for professional growth
- Anxiousness both at work and during off time
- Mistrust of colleagues and superiors at work
- A lack of self confidence and lowered self-esteem
- Difficulty concentrating or getting work done on time
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor mental health
- Stress on the body, leading to illness and absences at work
- Negative effects on personal relationships
- A sense of negativity about life in general
Common Excuses People Make for Workplace Bullies
When you decide to speak up about your workplace bully, don’t be surprised if you face some initial pushback from your colleagues and even from your superiors. Many people, including the bullies themselves, prefer to smooth things over rather than ‘make a fuss.’ They might try to convince you that it is ‘all in your head,’ or that you just need to ‘learn how to take a joke.’ One powerful bully can make an entire office toxic, and others might rally around the bully so that they do not become the person’s next target.
You might hear some of the following excuses from your colleagues, or from the bully themselves. Don’t let these excuses overrule the fact that no one deserves to be bullied at work (or in any situation). Don’t be dissuaded – this behaviour has to stop.
- They’re just kidding – don’t let it bother you
- You need to relax
- They’re like that with everyone
- They’re from a different culture – it’s acceptable there
- They don’t mean any harm by it
- You need a thicker skin
- Don’t be so sensitive – we all like to joke around!
- Don’t make them angry – it will just get worse
None of these excuses justify the bully’s toxic actions.
What Should You Do About Workplace Bullies?
If you feel that you are being bullied at work, you are well within your rights to take action.
- It’s not your fault – The first thing that you should do when being bullied at work is to remember that this is not your fault. There is never any excuse for someone treating you this way in any setting, especially a workplace context. Even if your work is subpar or you have shortcomings to address, there are positive and professional ways that your superiors or colleagues should be handling the situation.
- Document instances – Remember to document specific instances of the bad behaviour so that you have a record if and when the matter escalates.
- Speak directly to your bully, if possible – Next, you can try to talk directly to your bully. Only do this if you feel safe, and if you think they might be open or receptive to hearing what you have to say. They genuinely might not realise how they are behaving, and your words might help them to see that their behaviour has not been acceptable.
- Go to your superiors – If speaking directly to your bully isn’t an option, you need to escalate the issue and speak to your superiors. Of course, if it is your direct boss who is the workplace bully, this is not the correct course of action, and you will need to go above them.
- Speak to Human Resources – If you have a Human Resources department, they should be your first point of contact. Explain to them that you feel like you are being bullied, and offer specific examples that you have documented. Explain that your performance is being negatively affected. Remember – if this is happening to you, it is likely happening to other people as well. Your HR team will likely have education in professional mediation and have taken mediation courses, and they can usually resolve the issue.
- Seek help from an external agency – If this does not work (or if you do not have an HR department), now is the time to seek formal help from an external agency or body. Get in touch with the ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). They offer arbitration services from professional mediators, and they can give you free and impartial advice to help your situation. You can also contact the Citizens Advice Bureau. You do need to know that seeking help from external agency can make the situation worse in some cases, so proceed with caution.
No one deserves to bullied in any situation, and especially not at work.