The situation with workplace bullying has never been more dire, with research suggesting that around 25 per cent of all Australian employees have been bullied at work at some point.
A bully is just one type of toxic co-worker you may be forced to work with, but workplace bullies are amongst the most toxic and harmful coworkers of all. Bullying is thought to be four times more prevalent than sexual harassment and it is estimated that 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the workforce is being bullied at any one time.
Unfortunately, Evelyn M. Field, author of Bully Blocking at Work, says noone is immune: “Workplace bullying can attack anyone, in any career, at any level, within any organisation, at any time.” The insidious actions of a bully can undermine your confidence and hurt your self-esteem, as it can manifest in many forms, such as:
- Verbal abuse
- Blame and humiliation
- Personal and professional denigration
- Harassment and discrimination
- Creating an unrealistic workload
- Passive aggressive comments and actions
- Cyber bullying
- Professional and personal exclusion or isolation
- Sabotage of career and financial status
What can you do about toxic workplace bullies?
For many people, the solution is simply to find another job. If you have suffered through sustained, ongoing bullying abuse, then this may be your best option.
Take solace in the knowledge that if you choose this course of action, you’re not alone. According to Sally Jetson from WA-based Sally Jetson and Associates – which specialises in helping businesses navigate complex issues of workplace behaviour, equal opportunity, discrimination and fair treatment – around 75 per cent of targets leave their job to make the bullying go away.
Jetson says the impact of workplace bullying is significant, with international and Australian research showing that around 30 per cent to 50 per cent of stress claims at work are related to bullying, intimidation and related forms of abuse. If you are one of these stressed out employees, consider the following advice:
Keep a diary
If and when it comes time to lodge a formal complaint, written evidence of your situation will help you put your case forward. Document every phone call, email, conversation or situation involving the co-worker that makes you feel uncomfortable, undermines your performance or flat out bullies. Also note your response or what actions you’ve taken to try and stop it, along with any responses you’ve had from management or HR.
Don’t try to manage the situation on your own. Support and advice from someone you trust will help you figure out what to do next. If you don’t have anyone at your workplace (like your HR manager) or within your industry that you can talk to, your friends and family members may be able to offer help and support.
Confront your bully
Depending on the situation, it may not be possible to confront them directly. For instance, if your direct boss is intimidating you and undermining your confidence, it can be tricky to muster up the confidence to tell them to their face: “Your bullying behaviour makes me uncomfortable and I need the situation to change.” However, it may be possible to put forward a logical argument that doesn’t make them feel like you’re directly attacking them: “I’m working too many long hours and weekends and I’m getting burnt out. I need to talk to you about cutting back my hours.”
Set a time limit
The worst thing about workplace bullying is that unless you nip in the bud, it will go on, and on and on. Set a time limit – say, three months in the future – and take action towards changing the situation, such as taking your complaint to HR or speaking to the bully directly. If the situation doesn’t change within three months, get your resume together and start shopping for your next job.