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Bullying: From The Playground To The Office And How To Deal With It

Bullying: From The Playground To The Office And How To Deal With It

Introduction to workplace bullying

In a way, being bullied is… well, sort of… a good thing. Far from being a loner or a weakling, the reason you are being targeted by a bully is probably because you are smarter, more competent, more poised and better-liked than the bully. You’re probably too independent and savvy to bow down to the bully’s ego trip and become a slave. All of this means the bully has decided that you are a threat, and has launched an all-out war against you to keep you in your place.

Knowing this is probably not comforting to you. After all, you’re the one who feels like throwing up on Sunday nights, or who uses your paid time off for “mental health” days to escape from misery at work. On these mental health days, you can hardly drum up enough enthusiasm to get out of bed, much less have fun with family or friends. Perhaps you spend a lot of time fantasizing about killing the bully or killing yourself, or your doctor has become concerned about your skyrocketing health problems. If so, you are not alone.

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Thirty-seven percent of Americans reported being victims of bullying in this 2008 study from the Workplace Bullying Institute. (By the way, the Workplace Bullying Institute website is utterly fantastic, and should be one of your first stops on the web for validating your experience and beginning to do your research. A good portion of the research for this article came from there.)

What does workplace bullying look like?

Bullying is not:

  • Usually physical or sexual in nature, which the bully knows would get him or her into trouble.
  • Simply being rude. Rudeness – belching, spitting, nose picking, etc. – doesn’t cause undue stress. It’s just annoying.

Bullying is:

  • A form of emotional abuse.
  • Most of the time, done to you by your boss. Seventy-two percent of bullies are managers, supervisors, team leaders, or other people in positions of power.

Bullying might look like:

  • Being assigned the impossible task of doing a job without having the time or training to learn how to do it. The bully would then give you a poor job review.
  • Sabotaging your efforts to get your job done by throwing away your files, deleting your database, or intercepting important phone calls and emails.
  • Receiving snide comments about your appearance, background or lifestyle.
  • Hearing back-handed compliments, such as, “You’re smarter than you look.”
  • Hiding your personal effects (keys, wallet, jewelry, etc.) or work materials.
  • Calling you into the office and hurling accusations at you, or threatening such meetings and never holding them.
  • Trying to discredit you or turn others against you.
  • Constantly interrupting you so you can’t get any work done.

The list could go on and on. Bullies are insecure, but they are clever, and they can be infinitely creative in finding ways to torment you without overtly violating laws or policies.

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Should I report bullying?

You might think filing a complaint with the human resources (HR) department or your boss’s boss would be the first logical thing to do, but statistics don’t support this course of action. There are no state laws that require employers to address workplace bullying.

As a result, according to this 2008 study, when employers were told about incidents of bullying, only 1.7% responded with the best case scenario: a fair investigation that resulted in protection for the target and consequences for the bully. In 53% of cases, the employers did nothing, and in 71% of cases, the target was actually retaliated against.

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There are a couple of reasons for this disappointing response. Victims of bullying are often seen as “whiners” and “troublemakers,” while the bully is seen as producing a temporary increase of productivity from his or her employees – especially if the bully takes the time to “crop” business statistics so they present the bully in a favorable light. Also, hiring is often done according to the “who-you-know” rule. If the bully is a personal friend of the president of the company, it is going to be difficult for the president to hear bad things about his or her friend.

What can I do?

Here are some things you can do in the face of these dismal statistics. These suggestions are geared toward helping you feel more empowered while you’re in what is one of the most frustrating, hopeless situations that exists. Don’t underestimate the value of your mental, physical and emotional health in times of extreme stress like this.

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  1. Take extra good care of yourself physically. Vigorous physical activity helps a lot in times of stress, so make it a priority to engage in your favorite exercise every day, or start an exercise program if you don’t have one.
  2. Remember, your attention is the same as your respect. Do your best to disrespect the bully by ignoring them, both at work and at home. It’s difficult to simply stop thinking about something, so find ways to distract yourself into thinking about something else instead.
  3. It is easy to be dismissed as a whiny troublemaker by HR and upper management. Nobody cares about your suffering, and worse, any documentation about your emotional state can be used against you. Carefully choose one or two people to whom you can vent, but do not air your feelings anywhere else.
  4. Be better than the bully in every way you can. Dress one notch nicer. Get to work ten minutes earlier. Keep your office space, your conduct, and yourself absolutely pristine. Learn to work around the bully and get your job done in spite of him or her. Your present conduct will pave the way toward better work in the future.
  5. Start your search for a new job. Seventy-seven percent of targets lose their jobs, either voluntarily or not, so have your escape route in place. Don’t be afraid to look for “fantasy jobs” or start implementing any dreams you’ve had for starting your own business at this time. Remember, these steps are about maintaining your own morale in the middle of a war zone.

If you want to expose the bully

  1. Start doing research. Take time off if you need to. Find out whether or not he or she has crossed a legal line and can be prosecuted. About a quarter of bullies violate discrimination laws. Look for internal company policies as well as state and national policies.
  2. Start gathering data about the economic impact of the bully on the company. Employers will sit up and pay attention if a bully’s actions are affecting the financial bottom line of the company. Put dollars and cents to the expenses of staff replacement, demoralization from under-staffing, absenteeism and lost productivity. Make the case that the bully is too expensive to keep.

A final word

Remember, you are not at fault for being bullied. Bullies didn’t become bullies overnight; they all have a history that can be exposed through proper vetting. The fault for bullying lies entirely with the employer, for hiring them in the first place (negligent hiring), and for ignoring complaints about the bully (negligent retention).

While the legal landscape looks grim for bullying targets right now, awareness is gradually increasing. Twenty-one states have anti-bully legislation in the pipelines, and hopefully soon we’ll begin to see states signing these proposals into law. Again, the Workplace Bullying Institute is an awesome resource. Start there, and good luck.

Featured photo credit: gun.?/Israel. via flickr.com

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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