How to combat the workplace bully
In a professional environment, you’d be right to expect a mature culture, free from childish plays, mind games and senseless tormenting. However, we know that bullies aren’t only found in the schoolyard - they’re often sitting at the desk opposite you.
Workplace bullying is a big problem. In fact, in 2015, Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower issued a Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment to try and combat the instances of bullying on the job.
But how do we identify harmless jokes from real bullying? And how do we fight it to ensure we are working in safe and productive environments?
Catherine Mattice, an expert in court cases and owner of www.noworkplacebullies.com, told Monster.com that workplace bullying has four defining characteristics:
1. Bullying is ongoing psychological abuse, including aggressive communication, humiliation, and manipulation.
2. Bullying results in psychological damage for targets and witnesses (people who don’t identify as a target of bullying but see bullying happening around them).
3. Bullying results in an unfair match, or power imbalance, much like the one a battered wife and her violent husband have.
4. Bullying is costly for the organisation due to reduced morale and productivity from targets and witnesses. While stern discipline includes coaching poor performers through harsh chastisement, or motivating employees with assertiveness or aggression, bullying includes calling people names when they don’t perform, taking credit for others’ successes, or arbitrarily punishing people.
In other words, tough bosses are still coming from a place of encouragement to succeed, but bullying comes from a place of ill-treatment.
How can you address bullying?
Bullying typically begins when one initial incident occurs and targets don’t defend themselves. This often gives a bully the impression they can push buttons without any push back.
If you stand up for yourself immediately during the first few incidents, you can likely avoid falling into the trap of target-hood. While some experts would suggest not to speak up when bullying happens, in the office, doing so will help you resolve the issue faster since it will receive the necessary attention. Standing up for yourself, and sharing the results with management, helps them see you as a solution-oriented asset rather than a whiner who can’t get along with co-workers.
4 Steps to resolve a bullying situation
If it gets to the stage where you need to file a grievance with HR or management, you should:
1. Document everything. Every time a bullying incident happens write down the who, what, when, where and why. Also keep any bullying emails or other tangible documents as proof.
2. Try to determine cost of the bullying. Managers will respond to a business case for ending bullying more so than they will respond to, ‘I’m hurting, can you help me?’ Quantify the damage as best you can, and your manager will be more responsive.
3. Talk to the manager about the bullying behaviour, not about your feelings. Many targets are not heard because they focus the conversation on them. In turn, they are seen as the problem. Instead, focus on the bullying behavior and why it hurts the organisation.
4. Offer solutions. What do you want from management? Are you seeking training for your team? A transfer? Coaching for the bully? Determine a few solutions to offer up so you appear proactive, and not just showing up with a complaint.
What if the bully is your boss?
If this is the case, you should still speak to him or her first about the behaviour. If it doesn’t change, then seek help from the bully’s boss, and go up the chain of command as far as you need to, with the help of HR. You are not required to sit back and take it just because it’s your boss - everyone has the right to work in a healthy, productive and safe environment.
What if it can’t be resolved?
This is obviously a worst case scenario, but if you’ve tried every professional avenue to rectify the situation to no avail, then perhaps it is time to leave. Take care of yourself! Make sure you request an exit interview where you can candidly share the reasons you are leaving. It can also help to follow this up with an email to the upper management, so that they are made fully aware of your decision to leave, and all the steps you took previously to try and combat the bully.
Got more questions about how to behave and manage life in the office? Download Monster Singapore’s Graduate Handbook!