Workplace bullying is widely recognised as a productivity killer, and can even lead to potential lawsuits. Whether it’s happening in person or behind a screen—here’s how you can deal with the issue before it gets too serious.
Bullying is extremely common when you’re in school. In fact, a lot of people still have some unpleasant memories from their teenage years that trigger certain behaviours in them. Unfortunately, it isn’t one of those things that only occur in the vicinity of a school. Offices can have bullies too. And they’re more common than you might think. A survey conducted by Career Builder revealed that a whopping 55 percent of Indian employees are being bullied or harassed at their workplace in one form or the other.
Bullying at work often involves an abuse of power, but even co-workers that hold equal power can bully each other. Intimidating, humiliating, and degrading someone become commonplace in toxic work environments. It creates a feeling of helplessness in the target and can lead to mental-health related problems ranging from minor stress to serious issues like suicidal thoughts. However, one must note that there is a difference between bullying and aggression. Aggression is usually confined to a single incident. On the other hand, bullying involves repeated actions against the said target. When you start noticing a pattern, that’s when you can be sure that you, or someone else is being bullied.
How can you spot a workplace bully?
In his book, What Every Target of Workplace Bullying Needs to Know, author Anton Houtthere categorises workplace bullies into eight common personalities. Do any of these sound familiar?
The Constant Critic: Their main goal is to bring down your self-confidence through unnecessary criticism. They will keep an eye out for even the tiniest of flaws in your work and will do anything to make you look bad.
The Attention Seeker: They want to be the center of attention at all times. You’ll often find them buttering up the bosses and they might even appear helpful to new employees. But the real problem starts once you stop giving them importance. That’s when they will turn on you and over-dramatise events to gain sympathy.
The Gatekeeper: Their main goal in life is to hold some sort of power over other co-workers—be it real or perceived. They will constantly try to act like their opinion matters more than you and will even deny people the tools they need to do their jobs efficiently. If they don’t like you, they will also try to make sure that you are excluded from important events.
The Two-Headed Snake: This one is pretty self-explanatory. When they’re in your presence, they will pretend to be your closest ally. But as soon as you’re out of the picture, they will stab you in the back and try to degrade your reputation.
The Screaming Mimi: Some people might not identify them as bullies straightaway and might brush off their loud and obnoxious behaviour as a personality trait, but that’s exactly what they feed on. They are experts at humiliating people and often enjoy ragging new employees for fun.
The Wannabe: Just like the attention seeker, they act like they’re the most important person in the room and will demand recognition even for the things they didn’t even do. They won’t actually put in the effort, but will still oppose your ideas. They are all talk and no action.
The Guru: As the name suggests, they’re experts at what they do and unlike The Wannabe, they actually excel at most things. However, they lack common decency and emotional maturity. They think their work gives them the power to act like they’re above everyone and can often come across as unpleasant snobs.
The Sociopath: If your bullies were part of a game, this would be the hardest level to beat. Workplace sociopaths are intelligent, charismatic and polite but don’t be fooled by their exterior as they actually have zero empathy for their co-workers. They often form cliques and have someone else do all the bullying for them. Their reputation matters a lot to them, which is why they can’t be seen getting their hands dirty.
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How to deal with workplace bullying?
Now that we’ve identified what a workplace bully could potentially look like, let’s have a glance at some easy measures one can adopt to deal with harassment and bullying efficiently.
Keep a track of the events: This is the first thing that you should do. “Start developing a journal and write things down as they happen. Sometimes you might forget all the little details which is why it’s important to note them down in real time,” says Dr C Manjula Rao, clinical psychologist, Apollo Health City, Hyderabad.
Physical evidence is important: It’s common for your bully to be someone that holds more power than you. Due to this, the HR might not believe your accusations instantly. “Save all the threatening emails, screenshots and even physical notes if any and use them as evidence when required,” says Dr Rao.
Confront your bully: This might be incredibly unpleasant and awkward but before you report your bully, try confronting them one last time. Remember to bring someone trustworthy along with you so that you have a witness. No matter how rudely they behave, keep your calm. They might try to get a reaction out of you but you need to hold your ground.
Report them: “If the problem doesn’t stop even after your conversation then don’t waste time before reporting your bully to the HR Department,” says Dr Rao. Submit all the evidence and if possible, ask the witnesses to give their statements as well.
Consult a lawyer: Bullying is not technically an illegal activity but under certain circumstances it might directly or indirectly lead to events that require legal action. For example, if your bully is threatening your life or trying to make sexual advances, talk to your lawyer.
Talk to people: The more, the merrier. While it might be embarrassing to some people, hiding incidents of bullying and harassment only makes it worse. “Tell everyone that’s close to you. Your friends, co-workers and family members would love to help you. If things get serious, don’t wait before consulting a therapist,” she says. Your mental health matters more than anything else in this situation.
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How to help someone else that is being bullied?
Even if you’re not the target yourself, a lot of times you might witness acts of bullying and harassment happening right in front of your eyes. People often don’t say anything because they fear for their job and don’t want to implicate themselves in someone else’s problems but not speaking up against evil is almost as bad as the act itself. The next time you see someone that is struggling, you can take the following easy steps to help your colleague:
Offer them your support: Even if you don’t want to become a part of the incident, this is the bare minimum that you could do. They will appreciate any help that they can get.
Intervene if you think things are getting serious: If you notice the bullying incidents getting worse, you should form a group and intervene. The bully might try to deny the accusations, which is why it’s best to do it in real time. So the next time you see someone being harassed: Speak up.
Listen to their story: Your colleague might not be comfortable speaking to an expert just as yet, so you can temporarily take that place. All you have to do is be open-minded and lend them a sympathetic ear.
Help them report the incident: You might be reluctant to do this, but it is important that you help your colleague speak to the HR manager. This way, you can make sure that their rights are protected.
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