Dealing with a Bully in the Workplace

by Thom Tracy

2 min read

Though bullying is often associated with kids or teens, adults can also perform the abusive behaviour. The workplace is a common setting for such conduct. Along with causing emotional distress, bullying in the workplace can have a negative effect on the victim’s job performance and subsequent career. There is no reason to put up with being bullied on the job.

What Is Workplace Bullying?

Bullies in the workplace can be an individual, or group, who aims to intimidate, belittle, or possibly even mentally devastate the victim. Think of it as a campaign of interpersonal destruction, where the target’s sense of well-being is completely destroyed. The extreme stress caused by the repeated and systematic harassment can result in detrimental health problems, including depression, anxiety, cardiovascular problems, neurological changes, gastrointestinal issues, and skin disorders. Though the bullying may be targeted toward one individual, the behaviour can have a detrimental effect on the entire company’s morale, productivity, and profitability.

Types of Work Bullies

The only commonality among bullies is they seek to intimidate and cause stress. The way in which they go about this can be different for every person. For example, the subtle bully uses passive-aggressive techniques such as being two-faced and spreading rumors. Abusive bullies prefer to humiliate their victims in public, such as at an important meeting. Managers or co-workers who step on others to get ahead are opportunistic bullies. Those who use control as their method may prevent their victim from having access to resources or information needed to succeed at the job.

Common Bullying Behaviour

Much of bullying behaviour is subtle mistreatment that takes place over a long period of time. Victims may experience deceit, intimidation, exclusion, isolation, and criticism, all played out in various ways. An ignoring type of behaviour, for instance, may mean the target was not invited to a meeting that he or she should have attended. The person executing the bullying behaviour may set victims up to fail by holding them to unrealistic expectations. Additionally, work may be sabotaged, ideas stolen, and intelligence undermined.

What You Can Do to Resolve Bullying Behaviour

If you notice bullying among your employees, taking a hands-off approach can be dangerous. Bullying can destroy a workplace, especially in a small business, where such behaviour is difficult to hide. Addressing the situation can help you to retain quality employees and lower your liability risk.

Establishing an anti-bullying policy protects both you and your employees. The policy should define the characteristics of bullying so that employees fully understand the type of behaviour that is unacceptable. Spell out the consequences for engaging in bullying behaviour, which may include suspension or immediate termination for severe cases. Document the behavioural standards in the employee handbook, and have employees sign an acknowledgement that states they have read and understand the bullying policy.

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