Workplace bullying often involves intimidation, humiliation, or degradation of an employee by another employee or employer, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. Far from playground antics, workplace bullying can cause ongoing stress and affect overall productivity and morale. Learning how to protect yourself from a workplace bully can reduce the chances that you’ll become a target.
Familiarize yourself with legislation protecting employees from workplace bullying. Employers and other employees don’t have the right to mistreat workers, and there are laws in place to prevent this from happening. Bullying itself isn’t illegal in the United States, according to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, but harassment is illegal. Many behaviors associated with workplace bullying may fall under the umbrella of harassment or retaliation. Examples of potential bullying and harassment might include swearing at an employee, humiliating a worker in front of others, or shouting at an employee.
Confront colleagues directly when behaviors make you feel uncomfortable; don’t allow incidents to slip because they seem trivial. Letting someone know immediately when he or she has crossed the line establishes professional and personal boundaries, and helps set a precedent for open communication. Employees might request that managers hold trainings in workplace bullying, providing an opportunity to discuss workplace bullying openly, while asking for feedback from employees for ways to make the work environment a safer place for everyone.
Document incidents that make you feel uncomfortable by creating a log of incidents that notes the day, time, nature of the incident, individuals involved and any witnesses to what happened. Creating a record of workplace bullying incidents helps employees evaluate whether a problem is developing with another individual or group of individuals, and provides evidence in the event that management needs to get involved.
Approach managers and upper-level administration with workplace bullying problems, but proceed with sensitivity. Reporting negative incidents without documentation or evidence of prior attempts to resolve the conflict independently might create a negative impression with management. To avoid appearing unprofessional, approach the situation calmly, with documentation, in a private environment. If the workplace bullying is coming from a manager, make an appointment to speak with his or her supervisor. Some businesses have mediators to help individuals arrive at resolutions, especially for instances where no clear legal boundary has been crossed.
- Washington State Department of Labor and Industries: Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behavior
- CBS News.com. How to Handle a Workplace Bully
- Mediate.com: Bullies At Work
- Graziadio Business Review: Are Workplace Bullies Sabotaging Your Ability to Compete?
- Live Science.com: Workplace Bullying 'Epidemic' Worse Than Sexual Harassment
- Protecting yourself from a workplace bully starts with prevention. Present yourself in a professional manner at all times to avoid the inappropriate jokes and pranks that sometimes segue into bullying. Speaking with authority, assuming leadership roles, and earning the professional respect of peers help establish yourself as a valued employee rather than a target for bullying. Address personnel conflicts immediately so that they don’t grow into larger problems.
- Never “join in the fun” when colleagues are bullying another employee; this contributes to a hostile work culture. Avoid office politics and power struggles whenever possible; instead, divert your energy and creativity to producing high-quality work and relationships that speak for themselves.
Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.