How to Deal with Workplace Bullying

Man yelling at woman at work

According to the Trades Union Congress, one in every three people in the UK has had to deal with bullying at work. Studies also show that women are the biggest victims of this behaviour with a whopping 34 per cent saying they’ve been bullied by colleagues, and even more often by managers. What’s apparent from these figures is that bullying is a more common phenomenon than we’d like to admit and whether you’re the victim of bullying behaviour at the moment or are worried that you might be in the future, you need to learn how to deal with it.

Below we’ve put together an effective guide that will take you from recognising that you’re being bullied to understanding how to deal with it.

Understand If You’re Being Bullied

Not everyone’s relationship with their colleagues is harmonious. In fact, the majority of people in the workforce report having negative feelings towards at least one person in the office. And it’s only natural to feel so; we are forced to spend 8+ hours a day in a pressing environment with people we barely know and/or understand.

Not liking your colleagues is not a problem on its own. The problem starts when this behaviour becomes abusive. That’s not to say that everyone you don’t get along will try to bully you, but there’s a good chance that people who feel competitive towards you will at some point try to belittle and abuse you.

Often, the culprit is the manager who, being in a position of power and not knowing how to handle it, turns against specific individuals and makes their lives a living hell. Other times, the problem lies with colleagues who’ll try to undermine you at every step.

Here are a few signs that you’re indeed being bullied at work:

  • Verbal abuse: Shouting, name-calling, etc.
  • Being singled out for blame and criticism: Your colleague(s) habitually turn against you whenever something goes wrong and blame everything on you.
  • Exclusion from company activities: Not being invited to outings and events hosted by your team.
  • Any type of action that’s designed to humiliate you: Including repeated practical jokes and spreading rumours about you.
  • Physical aggression: Including unwanted touching.
  • Refusal of annual and sick leave: This is common when bullying comes from the manager; questioning any sick leave taken is also common.
  • Unjustified increase or decrease of workload: Again, when bullying comes from the manager.
  • Micro­management: Includes using certain policies against you and none of the rest of the staff.

Find Out about Your Rights

The UK does not have a law to protect employees from bullying. However, legal action can be taken against harassment as it’s defined by the Equality Act 2010. This Act protects employees from discrimination at work. These are the characteristics that are protected by law:

  • Age
  • Being or becoming a transsexual person
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Disability
  • Race (including colour, nationality and ethnic or national origin)
  • Religion (belief or lack thereof)
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

If you’re unable to sort out the problem informally (by talking to the manager, HR department or trade union representative), the law suggests that you make a formal complaint using your employer’s grievance procedure.

If going through that medium gets you nowhere, you can take legal action at an employment tribunal.

Deal with the Bully

Aggressively confronting the bully isn’t always the best action plan, mainly because it will intensify their aggressive behaviour. If you think you can reason with them, you should try it, but it’s often better to gather evidence of their behaviour and take your findings to management.

Here are some of the best tips to deal with the bully:

Explain How They’re Impacting Your Work

Sometimes bullies just need to be called out to realise what they are doing. Not that this justifies their behaviour, but it might get them to stop without having to take things further. So, ask them for a minute and explain how they are forcing you to waste time.

Point Out Their Behaviour

Confronting the bully can be very hard and scary, but you don’t have to do so by demonstrating similar behaviour. In fact, sometimes the most effective way to deal with a bully is to point out that they are bullying you. So, next time they verbally abuse you, repeat back their words in the form of a question and leave the room. Doing so repeatedly can often get the bully to back off.

Keep a Diary

A diary can come in handy when you are taking up the matter to the authorities. It can essentially prove frequency, pattern and escalation of the bully’s behaviour which is why you should keep meticulous data about times, places and exact phrasing.

Find Allies

Bullies typically don’t just pick on one person. In fact, they generally have a history of bullying different individuals and it’s important that you find these people and team up with them. If it’s the manager who’s the problem, it won’t be hard to find other victims because managers tend to bully people indiscreetly. If it’s a colleague who’s the bully, it might be a little bit harder to get people to admit that they’re being bullied but you’ll be able to if you help them understand that you need to stand up to the bully.

Build a Support System

Being bullied can be a trying time for anybody, so it’s important to build a support system both at home and at work. Talk to your friends and family about the problem and don’t try to hide. Remember that you’re doing nothing wrong and that it’s the bully who should feel ashamed.

Speak to Your Boss

As much as you try to resolve the problem on your own, there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to do it. So, if the situation has got to a point where your health and work are suffering, then you need to take more extreme measures and this means talking to your boss. If your boss is unwilling to help with the situation or claims that there’s nothing they can do, you should inform them that you plan on talking with HR and that legal action is a route you’re considering.

Talk to HR

If none of the recommendations above have helped, then it’s time to take more serious action and this means that you need to head over to HR. Take evidence of the bully’s behaviour with you and file a formal complaint. HR will then have to investigate and take action against the bully. Keep in mind that it can be a particularly stressful time for you, but you need to be patient.

Change Jobs

Unfortunately, your complaint might go awry and you might never get the results you were hoping for. If that happens, then you should be prepared to change jobs. Remember that changing jobs is not giving up or giving in to the bully, but rather that it’s the smart decision to make for your health and wellbeing.

Being bullied at work can be harmful to your health and it should, therefore, be your priority to stop this behaviour. Speak up and remember that by doing so, you are probably helping others who are suffering at the hands of the same person.

Have you ever been bullied at work? Let me know in the comments section below.