Bullying in the workplace
We hoped that we had left the bully behind in the school playground. That most despised part of childhood where another child and their gang hurt you through theft, as well as physical and mental torture. Stand up to them, tell a teacher, tell your parents, all advice given to us as kids. Yet most commentators know it is a difficult problem to tackle, and many bullied children are happy to leave school behind for the safety of the adult world of work.
The office has become the new playground and all too often the boss or colleagues become new bullies. All of the same techniques and behaviours are there and you can feel just as lost, alone and powerless as you ever did. Many put up with bad behaviour, inappropriate behaviour, and aggressive behaviour because if they speak up they might lose their job, or they might be seen as a trouble maker or perhaps worst of all that the behaviour is okay because they have made mistakes.
This fear works in the bully’s favour keeping the power balance such that the victim feels unable to act and leaves the bully free to be threatening, constantly undermining the confidence of the victim. The victim can get to a stage where they feel that they have no options, they just have to take it, and that is a very dangerous situation to be in.
Bullying can only end when the power balance is addressed. This is part of the reason that victims can feel so powerless. They may have to stand up to the bully for it to be addressed. It would be wonderful if an article such as this could provide the magic bullet that could say how to fix bullying in your workplace, but the reality is that bullying is a complex problem and the solutions are often complex and unique. Let us take a look at some of the common considerations.
The culture of the organisation has a huge part to play in what can be done about bullying, often in bigger organisations there will be policies and procedures that allow you to raise complaints both in informal and formal ways to try to get the issue resolved. Although it might seem impossible to imagine; perhaps the bully is unaware that their behaviour is being seen by you as aggressive and when it is pointed out they will make changes. While perhaps seemingly difficult to imagine many workplace conflicts start with simple miscommunication. Of course it may be that you need mediation or a formal investigation but policies often give you that frame work. In smaller companies especially if it is the owner bullying you then there may be less you can do. Certainly in all cases recording incidents and gathering evidence is a good step because if you feel you have to leave you may have to prove that you were forced out to a tribunal.
Even while you are in a difficult work situation there are practical things that you can do. Remember that you are in control of your thoughts, don’t anticipate problems, while you might think your boss may be nasty to you don’t catastrophise each encounter. Try to remember that most encounters will be better than you expect.
Even if you have a terrible day at work, remember that is just 7/8 hours of your day. Remember you are doing this for your family, your children or yourself, the point is that you don’t care about the bully so don’t let them fill your thoughts outside of your work.
Ultimately being in a situation where you are being bullied is not a good thing, while there are coping mechanisms and you can seek support, ultimately you need to get away from the power imbalance and to do that you may need to seek out help or a new job, but don’t feel powerless you can always change something.
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