Bullying is a worldwide phenomenon that appears everywhere, and not just inside school gates. Employees are subjected to different forms of bullying and harassment in the office.
Sometimes it is confusing to determine what a form of bullying is. It is even more confusing to know how to overcome workplace bullying when the bully is a manager or someone in power.
Here is a guide to everything you need to know about bullying in the office, including its definition, types, effects, and strategies to combat it.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: Definition
It is important to define what workplace bullying is to be able to address it when it occurs. According to WBI, “Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more targets by perpetrators.”
An abusive conduct may be threatening, humiliation, or intimidating the target. It extends to sabotage, which is preventing the target from accomplishing his work. Finally, verbal abuse is also a form of clear bullying.
What Is Not Considered Workplace Bullying?
Human relationships and communication are not as simple as we think. Many times, a situation or something that a colleague says or does is misinterpreted as bullying. There is a fine line separating between constructive criticism and destructive one.
To avoid any misunderstanding, let us clarify what is not considered workplace harassment. For instance, a manager must direct and supervise the way work is done. Therefore, a manager evaluating an employee’s poor performance and deciding to apply a disciplinary action is not considered bullying.
As long as the process of evaluation is not biased, or varies from one employee to another, then the manager is merely doing his/her job. Moreover, workplace conflict could arise, but it is not deemed as bullying. Bullying is rather a series of repeated and irrational mistreatment.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: Why It Happens?
In schoolyard bullying, the target is usually the lonely child who finds it difficult to fit in. On the contrary, in the workplace, an employee is targeted when they impose a threat. The perception of threat could only exist in the bully’s mind.
Or, it could happen because the target is truly the best at what they do so they get naturally-deserved attention. In some cases, the target is an employee who refuses to violate a policy, which everyone else seems to violate.
In other cases, like schoolyard bullying, the target could be someone with social anxiety, or whose personality does not “blend” with the team’s character.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: Statistics
Bullying is a serious issue that has been tackled over and over, especially in schools among teenagers. That made some people mistakenly think it does not exist in the workplace. However, when we take a look at the numbers, they are surely shocking.
In the States, 65 million workers are affected by workplace bullying. With 27% of employees reporting being targeted, whether now or in the past. Those who have witnessed workplace bullying represent 70%.
In the UK, it is not much different: “29% of people have been the victims of workplace bullying. That’s nearly 3 in every 10 workers. To put that into perspective, that’s more than the populations of Scotland and Wales combined.”
These alarming numbers remind us how important it is to address the issue of how to overcome workplace bullying in companies.
Workplace Bullying Patterns: Who Gets Targeted the Most?
In addition, other interesting numbers give us an insight about the patterns of workplace bullying. For example, 69% of workplace bullies are males, and they tend to target females. Meanwhile, only 31% of perpetrators are females, yet their targets are mostly females as well.
Along with gender, rank constructs another interesting pattern in workplace bullying. 56% of workplace harassment comes from bosses, and not from co-workers. In other words, bullying in the office is a top-down system and not a bottom-up one.
Furthermore, statistics show that disability, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation all play a role in being subjected to harassment and bullying. Perhaps, it is not surprising to find that minorities are more prone to workplace bullying.
After all, the office reflects the larger community.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: Effects
You may be thinking that only workers subjected to harassment or mistreatments should be asking how to overcome workplace bullying. However, overcoming workplace bullying is not an individual concern.
Not only do bullies harm their target employees, but also, they harm the business itself. Bullies must be regarded as productivity killers and potential legal threats to the employer. For that reason, many companies take measures to put an end to this phenomenon.
- Here are some of the negative effects on business caused by workplace bullying:
- Reduced productivity and profitability due to the target employee losing focus on his/her work.
- Higher absenteeism and sick time to escape harassment and confrontation.
- Decreased morale and loyalty.
- Higher turnover rate which causes the business to lose its best human resources.
- High turnover means increasing costs to recruit new employees and give them training.
- Negative effects on the company’s image, especially now that social media is accessible to everyone.
- Increased workers’ compensation claims.
- Wasting time on solving bullying issues among employees, which causes delay and loss of financial resources.
- Legal costs from employees who decide to sue the employer.
On a personal level, employees subjected to bullying can suffer from:
- Low self-esteem due to poor job performance,
- Mental health problems (such as anxiety and depression),
- Decreased job satisfaction,
- Physical health risks (such as high blood pressure).
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: Types and Examples
To overcome workplace bullying, it’s important to understand what you’re dealing with. With that in mind, here are some of the most common types of workplace bullies.
The Loud Voice
This one should be able to spot those from a distance. They happen to be common as well. Loud bullies are obnoxious and rude. It seems that they maintain their importance by being the loudest person in the room, always making their ideas heard, but not in a healthy way.
They thrive on the notion that others fear them. So, they must interrupt others in meetings or step on their ideas with humiliation and disdain. They discard other people’s opinions as invalid or unworthy of attention.
Loud bullies intimidate their colleagues, especially the shy ones, from speaking up and sharing their thoughts. This causes the business to lose new innovative ideas, just because one employee decided so.
The Double-Faced Snake
Seriously, who hasn’t met those? However, unlike the loud bullies, these are the hardest to spot. They bully with a smile. To a co-worker’s face, they would act as trusted friends, but once the target leaves, the real face shows up.
This bully has no problem destroying a co-worker’s reputation, stabbing them in the back, or even taking credit for work they haven’t done. Double-faced snakes usually have more than one target.
In addition, they are often social climbers, so they may also aim at someone with a good position, to bring them down. They make sure to get all the updates about what happens in the office from – so called– friends because that’s what friends are for, eh?
Gossipers and double-faced snakes love each other, they always go hand in hand. They both work behind the scenes and with a smile. While gossip is a common activity everywhere, workplace gossip may have serious consequences.
In some cases, gossipers could cause the target to lose the job, or their marriage. Gossipers usually spread rumors, in coffee breaks or in the game room; work related or personal ones.
Rumors are hurtful, and they ruin a person’s reputation. In fact, rumors spread by gossipers are an invitation for other people to bully the target too. It somehow becomes collective bullying.
While gossipers may be doing this for entertainment, or to feel better about themselves, it could have a huge effect on the target. It is a dangerous trend that should be eliminated from a healthy work environment.
The Constant Critic
It is usually a gray area for many to differentiate between constructive and destructive criticism. Constant criticism is surely a sign of destructive criticism. Even the worst employees have at least one thing that they deserve appreciation for.
Moreover, constructive criticism aims to improve an employee’s performance, while destructive one aims to destroy self-confidence. The constant critic bully looks for any possible flaw to point at, his/her reasons are usually unwarranted.
They will hold the target to irrational – or even impossible – standards. Even if your work is impeccable, this type of bully may go an extra mile and create falsifying documents or put fake poor results under your name.
Anything to prove that others are not good enough. Also, constant critics do not work behind the scenes, like gossipers, on the contrary, they clearly announce that the target made a mistake.
Gatekeepers do not like sharing. They often hold some high positions, at least higher than that of the target. Their strategy involves preventing the target from reaching the right tools, resources, time, or information to execute their tasks properly.
They hide information and pretend it’s an accident. In other words, they push the target out of the way. They may deliberately assign a task to the target just before the deadline to put them under stress or make them look bad.
They feel important when they exercise their power over their targets. If they could, gatekeepers may exclude the target from meetings, brainstorms, and social activities. This affects the target’s performance, business goals, and makes the worker feel stressed and victimized.
Like gatekeepers, a clique also likes to keep things for themselves. The difference is that they come in a group. Millennials are probably familiar with the popular high school movie, Mean Girls’ quote “On Wednesdays we wear pink.”
This is a perfect example of a clique.
A clique thrives on excluding “outsiders,” often targets, and exclusion is usually accompanied by disdain and humiliation. While it seems less dangerous, it does affect the work environment.
It makes the target feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed and even more of an outcast.
Once again, this feeling of persecution increases dissatisfaction and lowers an employee’s self-esteem.
The Attention Seeker
The attention seeker is a dramatic employee that continuously relates everything to something wrong going on in their personal lives. They intentionally try to gain sympathy from everyone, especially new employees and managers.
They flatter, sweet-talk, and highlight their struggles to everyone in an attempt to drive sympathy and attention. Attention seekers do not always have a specific target in mind, they merely aim to be the center of attention.
Once someone doesn’t give them the right amount of attention, these bullies immediately turn against them. Like double-faced bullies, they may use sympathy to get information from co-workers, just to use it against them later.
The guru is also a common workplace bully. They are that employee of the month, every month. The one who makes no mistakes. Gurus are truly the best at what they do and they deserve all the attention and praise they get.
What is the problem? They have zero respect or empathy for their co-workers. Gurus only care about themselves, and their personal gain. Since they are the gurus, they think they are better than everyone, and therefore, they should be above the rules.
In addition, they do not accept criticism and would never admit that they made a mistake.
They may be willing to step on any employee to reach their goals. Although they may not be targeting one employee in particular, their attitude makes the atmosphere toxic for all other employees.
Pranksters may not have the worst intentions. They do it for the laughs. However, there is a clear line between an acceptable prank that brings humour to the office and humiliating a co-worker.
The prankster bully targets a co-worker who is not so popular, and makes them the victim of their pranks. This bully enjoys making one person or more look like fools, while the bully themself gains popularity.
The reason why it is hard to deal with the pranksters is that they would claim it was a joke, and that they did not mean any harm. Regardless of that claim’s truth, the office is not the best place for pranks especially if it causes the target to feel insulted.
Some pranks may even affect the target’s work directly. Once pranksters cross the line of being funny, the target or the company must stop them.
The puppeteer is an employee with a charm, a rank, and an intelligently twisted mind. Some people call these bullies sociopaths. They are experts at manipulating other people’s emotions to make them do what they want.
They use sweet persuasion to turn other people to their puppets. Sometimes, it is merely for their personal pleasure. For instance, like making someone buy them coffee every day, or watching other people compete against each other for their entertainment.
In other cases, it could take more serious forms, such as convincing a co-worker to do their dirty work in return for a raise or a higher position. Puppeteers are often bosses, or people who hold higher positions.
Most importantly, employees should never feel like they are doing things for their boss’s enjoyment.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: Strategies to Support Your Staff
When bullying occurs, it’s important to cut it off at the source. Even better, you should aim to train staff and implement policies which prevent bullying from happening in the first place. Here are some of the concrete steps that employees and employers alike can take.
Many employees are not aware that bullying is a widespread issue. They do not even recognize it when it happens. Sometimes managers disregard it as exaggerated or over-sensitiveness on the target’s behalf.
Raising awareness is the first step to eliminating workplace bullying. Raise awareness by conducting sessions that clarify that workplace bullying is a real problem.
Explain what the different types of bullying are and how and stress on the difference between what is acceptable, and what is not.
Keep an Eye on Potential Targets and Bullies
Employers have a general duty to protect employees from risks at work. Workplace bullying is a psychological risk that employees are subjected to. So, it is the employer’s responsibility to take safety measures to protect every employee.
We know that some employees are more prone to bullying than others. Managers and employers should keep an eye on potential targets.
They should make them feel comfortable and welcomed. Moreover, they must also encourage potential targets to immediately report any sort of maltreatment or intimidation. As for potential bullies, managers should make it clear to them that bullying will never go unpunished.
Adopt a Zero Tolerance Attitude
Cultivate a zero tolerance policy and attitude since day one. All new employees should have a brief about the company’s core values that does not endure toxic attitudes. This makes bullies think twice before abusing a co-worker.
Train Staff Members on Healthy Ways to Deal with Conflicts
Put in plain words that conflicts and disagreements inevitably happen at work. Employees spend more time at work than they do with their families.
The office is a place where people from different cultures, generations, and social status meet, so conflicts are not surprising. How we deal with these conflicts is what makes a difference.
There are many healthy ways to deal with clashes without turning co-workers into enemies.
Self-Confidence and Communication
These two form the basis of a strong character. Developing these qualities in your employees is a great way to limit workplace bullying. Self-confidence reduces the effects that bullying causes to the target.
A confident employee knows how to deal with bullies, and how to speak up for themself. Communication makes employees speak honestly, face-to-face, about how they feel towards each other.
If a conflict arises between two employees, they should communicate healthily instead of holding grudges or backstabbing each other.
Team-Building Activities and Social Events
The best strategy to avoid workplace bullying is to actually build friendships and good connections among the staff.
Team-building activities and social events help break the differences and form bonds between individuals. This happens when staff members realize that, despite the differences, they all share the same human nature.
Make Sure You Are Not the Bully
To be able to apply these strategies, the manager or the employer must be a role model. A team will never trust a manager who bullies them. They will also hesitate to report the incidents since it could affect them badly.
Listen to your employees attentively in meetings and never ignore any opinion.
Revise the way you deal with your employees, inside and outside the business context. Reconsider your sense of humour and how your employees view your attitude, especially in meetings and while assigning tasks.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: From an Individual Point of View
In addition to eliminating the structural causes of bullying, it’s important to know the best personal strategies for dealing with bullies. Here are the best ways to deal with a bully.
Keep Your Calm
Bullies do it for the reactions, either from the target or the audience. If you show that you are hurt or upset, it will make them feel victorious.
They will never want to stop. Laughing is also a reaction that invites more bullying. Find a way to keep a poker face on. If you witness bullying at work, call it out as an uncool behavior.
If it doesn’t stop, then you must start documenting what happened. The date, the location, what the bully did, and who witnessed the incident. Witnesses are of great help to rest your case.
Turn the Tables
Sometimes it works when the bully realizes that they not the only one who is good at the game, especially when it comes to verbal bullying.
That doesn’t mean you should bully back, just find a way to pick a smart reply. If the target steps up with a good comeback, without showing anger, the bully backs off.
If all the previous informal steps fail, the next thing to do is report it. Find someone you trust, and it would be best if this person has authority.
Do not be worried about the consequences of reporting it officially, even if your bully has a high rank and a great reputation. In addition, you may not be the only one. Find strength in numbers and team up with anyone who has been bullied by the same person.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: Company Policies
When the informal steps fail, the target finds no other way but the formal procedure. In that case, the company must have a clear disciplinary procedure against bullying. The procedure should involve 4 steps:
First of all, employers should put in place clear strategies and procedures to investigate allegations of bullying. This means:
- The target fills a complaint and accounts for any evidence or details that will help prove their point.
- The company gathers the facts and investigates their validity and truth.
- The company may choose to suspend the accused worker with pay, till they reach an outcome.
To follow legal processes, employers must follow notification requirements when disciplining an employee. This includes:
- The accused worker must be notified in writing with all the details of the accusation.
- The company should also highlight any subsequent action.
Next, a disciplinary meeting may be needed:
- A meeting between the three parties must take place: the target, the accused worker, and a representative from the company.
- The company’s representative would discuss the complaint and evidence.
- The two employees should make their cases, each representing their side of the story.
Disciplinary meetings may be formed with different actions:
- At this phase, the company must decide if the allegation is true.
- If it is, then the company must take disciplinary action and decide the adequate penalty according to its internal policies.
- The company should inform both employees in writing of the consequences of the investigation.
Disciplined employees also have a right of appeal. This means that:
- Employees can appeal decisions.
- Employees should make their appeals in writing.
- The company must consider appeals impartially.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: From a Legal Point of View
Although “bullying” does not exist in UK law, the term is used interchangeably with “harassment.”
Harassment is covered by the Equality Act and is defined as: “unwanted conduct” which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual.”
Filing a complaint for a serious bullying problem, one that qualifies for harassment, is a final solution to how to overcome workplace bullying.
How to Overcome Workplace Bullying: Word to the Wise
Workplace bullying is a real problem that we should be able to combat. It affects the mental health of our employees and the business as well. Companies should not tolerate bullies as they directly harm their reputation.
Finally, targets should reach out for help and be aware of their rights for a safe work environment. That’s the answer to how to overcome workplace bullying!