When You’re Being Bullied at Work: Contrary to popular belief, bullying isn’t one of those things you can put behind you when you become an adult, like awkward yearbook photos and even braces. Offices can have bullies, too. In fact, they’re more common than you might think.
Bullying takes on many different forms at work, not just yelling or hurling insults, but also talking behind someone’s back, sabotaging their work or spreading negative rumors.
These are extremely difficult situations, and they can be even more challenging for “nice girls” who so value getting along with their coworkers and are often very likely to take a bully’s actions personally.
Note that sexual harassment or abuse in the workplace, which is a related but different issue. If you’re being mistreated in that way, seek legal counsel.
If you have experienced workplace bullying, you may be asking yourself “why me?” And you are not alone: workplace bullying impacts 60.3 million Americans every year.
Below are some common reasons why people become “targets” of workplace bullies.
You are Highly Skilled
You may be bullied at work because you receive a lot of positive attention for your work. Maybe you are intelligent, determined, creative, and regularly contribute new and innovative ideas.
Also, maybe you go the extra mile and gain recognition for your hard work. Maybe you even move through projects quickly while others are struggling. All these things attract the attention of workplace bullies.
Workplace bullies target those that have talent because they either feel inferior or they worry that their work is being overshadowed by the other employee’s work and abilities.
You Are a ‘Nice Guy’
Bullies want to be in control and to call all the shots. So, you may be targeted by bullies because you are a team player. If you would describe yourself as caring, social and collaborative, this may be the reason that you are being bullied.
To a workplace bully, these characteristics drain the power they have at work. Team building is the antithesis of what a bully wants.
You also may be targeted for being ethical and honest. For instance, whistleblowers who expose fraudulent practices are frequently bullied by others at work to keep quiet.
If you are introverted, anxious, or submissive, these traits could also lead to you being bullied at work.
You Have Unconventional Physical Features
Unfortunately, adults often bully others for the same reasons kids target others in elementary school. Whether you are short or tall, heavy or thin, have a large chest or no chest at all, workplace bullies will find a way to exploit your appearance.
In fact, almost any type of physical characteristic that is different or unique can attract the attention of bullies. This includes wearing glasses, having a large nose, having ears that protrude, and even having adult acne.
How to Respond to Being Bullied at Work
Inform your Superiors
If you are not comfortable speaking to the individual who is bullying you directly, then you might need to discuss it with your manager or human resources.
Choose the course of action that feels best for you for your situation.
When addressing your concern with others, don’t play the blame game. Come up with a plan of how you are going to address the bullying concern and be sure to include its impact on productivity, well-being, and morale coupled with some possible solutions.
Keep a Diary
This is known as a contemporaneous record. It will be very useful if you decide to take action at a later stage. Try to talk calmly to the person who’s bullying you and tell them that you find their behaviour unacceptable.
Often, bullies retreat from people who stand up to them. If necessary, have a colleague with you when you do this.
Just Move On
The unfortunate truth is that there are a lot of bullies who are deeply entrenched in a workplace environment and aren’t going anywhere.
Sometimes it’s even your boss who is the bully. If you’ve gone to HR and the situation has not improved or you sense that the bully is well protected and has a lot of political power within the company, it may be best to start looking for another job.
Ultimately, you have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself based on how much exposure you have to this person and how much it is affecting you and your work.
If you do leave your job for this reason, I recommend being candid during your exit interview with Human Resources.
Tell them, “One reason I was open to other opportunities is that this wasn’t an entirely healthy work environment.” Hopefully, the company will not want to lose any more talent and will finally take care of this problem. And you will go on to bigger and better things.
If and only if you feel confident and physically secure, have a one-on-one talk with the bully. Be positive and do your best to be polite.
Calmly explain that it’s not OK to treat you this way. It’s possible the person is unaware that what he or she is doing is upsetting you and will apologize and back off.
You’ll need some backbone here. But it’s not in your job description to accept rude behavior or irrational work demands.