Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is something we should all be aware of, if it isn’t dealt with it can have serious consequences.

Dr Mary Casey has a Doctorate of Psychology, is the CEO of leading health and education organisation, The Casey Centre and wrote How to Deal with Master Manipulators ($69.95, Casey Centre).

We asked Dr Casey to discuss workplace bullying with us:

How would you define office bullying?

Bullying is about controlling and overpowering another person by way of aggression, sarcasm, blackmail, put downs and intimidation. Bullying involves dishonesty, deceit, manipulation and coercion to control the thinking of others in a way which may not be consistent with that person’s previous pattern of behaviour, feeling or thinking. It takes away their freedom of choice, reason and rationality. People who are bullies are insecure and unable to get what they want without manipulating and bullying others.

What should I do if I’m being bullied at work?

First thing first: examine your position in the workplace. If the bully is the owner or the boss, don’t waste your time. You need to look for another job then leave. If it is someone further down the line, there are strategies you can use to deal with their behaviour. For example you need to have very clear personal boundaries about what you will and will not accept from another person. Stand your ground if someone is aggressive. Don’t get into an argument with them but rather say nothing and let them carry on because eventually they ‘run down’ and end up with nothing to say. They usually rely on you to interrupt and get into some sort of discussion (heated or not) with them.

There is a course on DVD along with a handbook “How to Deal with Master Manipulators”. This gives numerous examples of the tactics bullies use and effective ways to deal with them. It covers many of the most common behaviours they display.

office bullies

If I am being harassed by work colleagues via email or social networking websites, is there anything I can do?

Strangely enough, this is actually the best case scenario for someone who is being bullied. If this is happening to you – keep your emails! Don’t delete them. These can be used as evidence for of the bullying. This can greatly assist your case when you do come forward and confront the bullying.

In office bullying the bully often manipulates others in the work place by underhandedly discrediting you and convincing those in higher positions that you are ineffective/bad/stupid/trouble maker etc. They do this because they try to damage your reputation. The bullies are very skilful in their manipulation tactics so, sadly, this often works. This means that by the time you turn to your boss or colleague they already have an opinion of you and distrust you; they have a pre-established negative image which the bully/manipulator has cemented in their heads.

The bully/manipulator’s goal is to get people on their ‘side’ and to turn colleagues against you. So if you start to express your concerns to others in the workplace they may turn to the bully and say things such as, “yeah, you’re right he/she is a trouble maker” or “now he/she is making up stories that you bully him/her!” Having black and white evidence can therefore avoid any of these scenarios.

How do I deal with the bully who undermines me to the boss?

As aforementioned you need to confront the bully before they go to the boss. In a bullying situation, you want to reduce the bully’s opportunities to ‘bad mouth’ you to any colleagues – especially the boss. This can be achieved through nipping the problem in the bud. If, unfortunately, the bully has already gone to the boss before you rectify the issue, the key is about building rapport with your boss.

You need to also present the issues to the boss in a clear and factual manner. You need to try and be as unemotional about the issue as possible. This is because the bully may have created an image of you as a ‘drama queen’ or ‘emotionally unstable’. You should try, to the best of your ability, to come across as clear and level headed when explaining the issues. It is fundamental that you understand that the bully may have already tried and/or succeeded in discrediting you to the manager. You should keep all of these factors in mind when communicating with others about the issue.

What if it is the boss who is the bully?

Every boss is different and so you need specific strategies to most effectively deal with them. Unfortunately, difficult people cannot be changed – we can only learn strategies to ensure we aren’t their targets. The best strategies focus on dealing with their behaviour, rather than trying to change their personalities. You can try to stand up to them and you may find in many cases that they do back down. Ask them not to yell or interrupt. When a situation gets heated, use their first name and ask them if they can outline exactly what the problem is.

Setting strong boundaries early on helps and this means that you must have them in the first place. This is why bullying happens!!…because people don’t have good clear boundaries about what they will not accept from others. Victims or Targets to bullies are the kind of people who need to be liked, lack confidence, are unable to confront and want to rescue everyone. It is important to recognise that people do what they do because they can – especially when they are in a position of power. Whether your boss is a slave driver or a micromanager, if they know where they stand with you then it’s harder for them to bully or manipulate you.

As stated earlier, be prepared to leave if necessary. An employer’s habits won’t change so if after many attempts to improve the situation fail, it may be best to move on. You really do have to weigh up leaving. Are you taking the stress/hurt/anxiety home? Are you constantly feeling ill? Is the situation impacting on other relationships? If you have answered yes to any these questions you need take responsibility for your health and move on.

How serious is workplace bullying and what are the consequences?

Workplace bullying is incredibly serious. In fact, it is rife across the country in all business, small, medium and large organisations. The consequences involve low productivity, low morale, high turn-over, high sick leave, unhappy staff, bad culture and overall unhappiness and negativity in the workplace.

Do apprentices have to put up with workplace bullying and what are the consequences?

No, absolutely not. Allowing work place bullying is cruel and ignorant and it starts apprentices on the wrong foot. It doesn’t give them an opportunity to learn to trust the industry, the business, people in power or their colleagues. In fact it may cement mistrust issues in all aspects of their lives. It essentially sets them up for failure, not only for that particular job, but in any future employment.

Where is the line between being friendly and sexual harassment?

There is actually quite a fine line. It is hard to recognise as it can be used in a very subtle and underhanded way. You should establish that fine line at a point where any sexual connotation is employed. Someone who sexually harasses will start with little subtle comments and then gradually build them up if you don’t put a stop to them in the very first instance.

Is there anyone I can talk to about my concerns?

Find an expert; a councillor or perhaps the HR manager. It is important to find an expert that understands workplace manipulation and bullying. This is because someone who is not knowledgeable with workplace dynamics may interpret the situation as you merely complaining about petty things. You therefore need someone experienced in that particular field.

The DVD is a good resource to help you learn and understand bullying; to equip you with the knowledge, skills and strategies to combat it in the workplace. The DVD is the only course that teaches all the components around manipulation and bullying; why people do it, the tactics they use, strategies to use to deal with it and why you might be a target.

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2 thoughts on “Workplace Bullying

  1. This is a fantastic article, so thank you. I have been bullied in the workplace before and fortunately for me I work for a very large organisation, and although my manager did nothing about it, I was able to go above his head to his manager and the problem was sorted out very quickly. It does make for an extremely unpleasant workplace and nobody should ever have to suffer through it. I think the points brought up in the above article are a fantastic way to handle bullying, especially the part about having definitive boundaries.

  2. As one who was the target of a bully for nearly 3 years, I’m aware of the seriousness of the problem. I think your definition of office bullying is correct, although more could be said about it. Your advice about perhaps needing to look for another job is also sound. Most victims of bullying do end up losing their position as I did, even though I worked there for 30 years with an excellent work record and the bully had only been there for about a year before she targeted me, and she had a questionable record. I also sought help from Human Resources, which turned into a disaster. The manager from HR, in an e-mail, refused to listen to my side of the story even before I met with him to discuss the problem. I was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the bullying and when I reported the injury to HR he responded by threatening to terminate me. He ordered me to lie about the injury if anyone asked, and said I would be terminated if I talked about the bullying to my co-workers. As you pointed out, it’s impossible to over emphasize the seriousness of the problem. Thanks again.

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