Workplace Bullying: What it Looks Like and What to do When it Happens
Have work colleagues ever made derogatory comments to you? Have co-workers ever made you feel isolated after you agreed to take on extra work, or made you feel uncomfortable after you were offered overtime? Have you ever been included in an email thread that insulted or belittled you, or overheard people discussing and mocking you in the office? Have you been shamed by co-workers who took on part of your workload while you were ill? All of these behaviors are forms of workplace bullying, and they’re not OK.
Bullying can harm your confidence and self-esteem, whether it comes from colleagues or managers. Supervisors who pressure you to return to work when you’re sick or pile extra evening and weekend hours on you may be mistreating you. When managers treat us this way, we often feel that if we refuse, we’ll harm our chances at a promotion or a boost in pay. We may feel controlled, as though we have to give in to a supervisor’s demands.
Or maybe you’ve let your manager, the company and even yourself down; these experiences can maintain a hold over you. After such an experience, you might find yourself saying “yes” when you want to say “no,” remembering the trouble it caused last time. Other times, bullying makes its way on to social media, where co-workers’ derogatory status updates are aimed at others in the office, creating a situation in which everyone is “in on the joke” except the victim.
We first experience bullying in childhood. But as we grow older, we begin to realize that bullying continues. We might all be guilty of bullying on some level at some point in our lives. Whether we’re the perpetrator or the victim, as adults we need to remind ourselves that we can do the right thing. We need to educate people that bullying shouldn’t be tolerated. (In some cases, it’s illegal.)
Often, people are too afraid to report workplace bullying to a manager or to someone in human resources, fearing they’ll be seen as a troublemaker. They may worry that they’ll be fired for making accusations, or fear that the company will protect a manager instead of investigating a complaint against him or her.
Gossip — which is rampant in many workplaces — can prevent workers from reporting bad behavior. People might not want their personal issues discussed in the office, or they may fear being labelled “the troublemaker.” They would prefer to do anything not to draw attention to themselves. It mimics the behavior of children who don’t report bullying to a teacher, for fear of repercussions. But we are no longer children. We are adults who, in theory, should know better.
How sad is it that, as adults, we are afraid of the repercussions of reporting bullies? We are still eager to people-please, walk on eggshells and avoid controversy. But in doing so, we allow ourselves to be dominated and controlled by the opinions and actions of others. We put our feelings, well-being and happiness on the back burner. Or, if we see someone else being bullied, we may not stand up for them.
But we should. Workplace bullying can prevent us from progressing further in our career. We might choose not to go for a promotion, fearing we’ll be accused of stealing it from a colleague. Workplace friendships might go south when one is upset that the other was assigned a special task.
We are all adults. It would be nice if we could work alongside each other in harmony rather than feeling the need to bully, belittle, intimidate and create a volatile working situation. This toxic environment can send shockwaves around an entire department, office or firm. It can lead to worry, anxiety and stress. Often people bring this worry home, which then interferes with their life outside of work. They get caught up in a vicious cycle feeling as though there is no escape or breathing space.
Adults are expected to know better and to behave in a mature, responsible manner. We can set an example for kids by showing that people have feelings and they deserve to be treated with compassion, kindness and respect. We can treat others how we wish to be treated. Always trying to be kind and positive can help make you a better person. Simple acts of kindness can immediately put a stop to bullying, mean comments and negativity. We all have the ability to make a difference. We can all be a positive influence and take a stand against bullying.