Award-winning director Lee Hirsch recently released his eye-opening new documentary “Bully,” which tells the tales of victims of schoolyard bullying to raise awareness of this tragic epidemic.
Unfortunately, this social problem doesn’t exactly go away once you’ve exited the classroom and entered the world of work.
Thirty-five percent of workers have experienced bullying firsthand, according to Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) who teamed up with Zogby International to conduct a nationwide survey in 2010.
WBI defines bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of the targets by perpetrators via verbal abuse, offensive conduct or work interference. So, this could mean: threatening, humiliating, intimidating, sabotaging, etc.
We wanted to see how members of the CareerBliss community handle office bullies, so we took a CareerBliss Poll and found that the majority of folks would “just focus on your work” and a lot of you would “give it right back to them.”
What a waste of everyone’s time and energy. You should not have to work this way! If you feel like you’re the target of a bully, don’t give them the satisfaction of ruining your workplace happiness.
Here’s how to deal:
1. Body Language Speaks Louder than Words
If, for instance, the bully comes around to your desk to make rude comments—don’t let them get a rise out of you. Instead, use your body language to show that you are assertive, confident and unhesitant, says Jackie Humans, author of 15 Ways to Zap a Bully, in an article featured on her website.
“For example, if you were presenting an idea in a group meeting and someone rudely interrupted you, you could put your hand out in front if you as though you were stopping traffic, look the bully in the eye, and say ‘Excuse me. I wasn’t finished,’” Humans suggests in her article.
A bully, she says, looks at a confident person as a lousy target. Be a lousy target!
Other examples of assertive, confident body language—courtesy of LiveStrong.com:
- Eye contact and facial expression: Maintain direct eye contact, appear interested and alert, but not angry.
- Posture: Stand or sit erect, possibly leaning forward slightly.
- Gestures: Use relaxed, conversational gestures.
- Voice: Use a factual, not emotional tone of voice. Sound determined and full of conviction, but not overbearing.
2. Speak Up to the Bully
Give them a chance by putting them on notice—tell them that they are making you feel uncomfortable (don’t forget your assertive body language!). Also, don’t let the problem persist before you speak up. “Confronting the bully’s behavior the first time it happens with strong words and strong body language is key,” Humans says.
3. Report them to a Supervisor or HR
If the problem escalates, Angela Reddock, national workplace expert and Los Angeles employment lawyer, suggests that you immediately report the misconduct to their supervisor and to human resources.
She says, ideally, “they should obtain the support of trained professionals and ensure they have the support and backing of the company in dealing with such issues.”
Of course, not every company is caring of their employees’ wellbeing. How they choose to address this type of complaint depends on the company’s culture.
Dr. Kathleen Hall of the Stress Institute suggests you, “Give the employer one chance. If they side with the bully because of personal friendship (he's a great conversationalist and a lunch buddy) or rationalize the mistreatment (you have to understand that that is just how she is), you will have to leave the job for your health's sake.”
4. Try to Create a Paper Trail
Employment Attorney Todd Harrison told us that you should try and document all of the bullying behavior. For instance, when you report them, try and fax or email (versus verbally engaging) to prove that you actually sent a complaint to the bully. In fact, keep any and all incidents that happen over IM or email in a separate folder. This way, you are prepared to point to some hardcore proof about the bully and it’ll avoid some of the “he said, she said.”
At the very least, keep a journal of the occurrences, suggests Humans in her article. Journaling can also be a great cathartic experience for you, helping you clearly see that it’s not your fault—but it’ll go a long way in helping you cope.
5. File a Report if Your Race, Religion, Disability or Age is Attacked
Current employment law says that bullying is not technically illegal – unless the bully attacks an identity category, such as race, religion, disability or age.
As soon as this happens, you “have the option of going to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or some similar state agency, and filing a complaint,” says labor and employment attorney Scott I Barer.
Here’s why the paper trail is super important: “The employee should have as much specific information as possible -- name of the bully, dates and times of behavior that is being perceived as bullying,” Barer adds.
6. If All Else Fails: Quit, File Workers Compensation & Find a New Job
If the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and the company doesn’t seem to have your back—try and get out of the hostile work environment! Start looking for a new job. If you quit, you might be eligible for workers compensation in the form of treatment for symptoms like stress and anxiety.
Harrison says it can be qualified as a “psyche claim” that can include a doctor’s visit, treatment and workers comp to help you get over it. Make sure you research this thoroughly before banking on workers or unemployment compensation! Hall suggests the following checklist:
- Check your mental health with a professional (not the employer’s Employee Assistant Program (EAP).
- Check your physical health because stress-related diseases rarely carry warning signals (digestive problems, increased blood pressure, etc.)
- Research state and federal legal options, talk to an attorney, and look for internal policies (harassment, violence, respect) for violations to report.