by Kathy Kirchoff
Bullying doesn’t just happen to children on the playground and at school, it happens at work too. Almost 54 million people have reported being bullied at work; that’s over one third of the U.S. workforce. Unfortunately, there are few laws in place against it. Are you in a bullying situation at work?
Who are the bullies?
Co-workers, other employees, contractors, and bosses can be bullies. There are many ways they bully, cleverly choosing their targets, timing, location and methods, and it may include recruiting others to side with them. Their tactics often include being condescending, yelling, swearing, name calling, interrupting you, gossiping, excluding or not responding to you, and making sarcastic remarks. They are a risk to the success of business and to the health of its employees.
Why do they pick on you?
Remember: you are not alone, and you didn’t cause it to happen. Bullies often pick out a new employee or someone they see as weaker or as a threat, that won’t try to stop them, and that they can harass without consequences. They may sometimes do it to protect their own jobs, and increase their chances of advancing in the company. Recognize the bully and their behavior. They often try to get close to you quickly to uncover your weak spots. Don’t let them intimidate you or make you feel bad. It can affect your mental and physical health.
What can you do?
Fear of dismissal or retaliation keeps employees from reporting incidents of bullying. It’s estimated that 40% of targets never tell their employers.
Here are some tips:
- Make sure you document the behavior. If you are a union employee, your union may be able to assist you.
- Talk the situation over with a trusted mentor who can offer you some guidance.
- Confront the bully in a calm, confident manner. Let your supervisor or co-worker know that their comments or actions are offensive, and give them an opportunity to correct their behavior. Sometimes people don’t realize their behavior is bullying, and just need to be told about it.
- Prepare for consequences. Bullying often escalates once they are exposed. Your supervisor may dismiss it as a “personality conflict,” which could reflect badly on you.
- Keep your contact with the bully strictly business and avoid situations where bullying is most likely to occur.
- Make sure your superiors are aware of your good work. Bullies often try to spread the word you aren’t doing your job well. You don’t want to lose your job because of their behavior.
- Don’t allow a bully to isolate you from your colleagues and friends at work. You need their support.
There are many things that an employer can do to address workplace bullying. Employers can protect their employees with strong harassment policies, implement a code of conduct policy, and enforce consequences for all bullies regardless of their position or relationship.
This week, Hennepin County approved a policy banning workplace bullying, becoming one of the first local government entities in the country to do so.