Note: The irony of workplace bullying is that the “victim” may be an excellent employee who is well liked, works hard, and demonstrates creativity and initiative. Bullying is often motivated by the bully’s insecurity, fear and jealousy. You may be targeted because the bully perceives you to be a threat. Employers take note – Good employees quit or are fired while bullies – who do not act in the company’s s best interests – remain to wreak more havoc. - PGB (email@example.com)
First – are you being bullied?
Here’s a Workplace Aggression Research Questionnaire developed by researchers from the State University of New York in New Paltz and Wayne State University that identifies often subtle bullying behaviors.
Take the quiz to find out if you’re a victim of bullying. Occasional insults don’t count. Bullying occurs when the behavior has occurred consistently during the past six months.
In the past six months have you regularly:
- Been glared at in a hostile manner?
- Been excluded from work-related social gatherings?
- Had others storm out of the work area when you entered?
- Had others consistently arrive late for meetings that you called?
- Been given the “silent treatment”?
- Not been given the praise for which you felt entitled?
- Been treated in a rude or disrespectful manner?
- Had others refuse your requests for assistance?
- Had others fail to deny false rumors about you?
- Been given little or no feedback about your performance?
- Had others delay action on matters that were important to you?
- Been yelled at or shouted at in a hostile manner?
- Been subjected to negative comments about your intelligence or competence?
- Had others consistently fail to return your telephone calls or respond to your memos or e-mail?
- Had your contributions ignored by others?
- Had someone interfere with your work activities?
- Been subjected to mean pranks?
- Been lied to?
- Had others fail to give you information that you really needed?
- Been denied a raise or promotion without being given a valid reason?
- Been subjected to derogatory name calling?
- Been the target of rumors or gossip?
- Shown little empathy or sympathy when you were having a tough time?
- Had co-workers fail to defend your plans or ideas to others?
- Been given unreasonable workloads or deadlines — more than others?
- Had others destroy or needlessly take resources that you needed to do your job?
- Been accused of deliberately making an error?
- Been subjected to temper tantrums when disagreeing with someone?
- Been prevented from expressing yourself (for example, interrupted when speaking)?
- Had attempts made to turn other employees against you?
- Had someone flaunt his or her status or treat you in a condescending manner?
- Had someone else take credit for your work or ideas?
- Been reprimanded or “put down” in front of others?
Steps to take if you are being bullied:
- In the early stages, consider telling the bully that his/her behavior is not acceptable and firmly ask them to stop. You can ask a supervisor or co-worker to be with you when you approach the person. This may not be helpful if the bully is a sociopath or even a psychopath who lacks empathy. It could even backfire, causing an escalation of the bullying. It’s a judgment call.
- KEEP a factual journal or diary and record each instance of bullying. The record should include:
o The date, time and what happened in as much detail as possible.
o The names of witnesses.
o The outcome of the event.
Here’s a possible example of a journal entry: 11/21/10: Bob came marching down the corridor at approximately 10 a.m. He grabbed my arm, pulled me into an unattended office and shouted, “Get that ***** project on my desk by lunchtime.” He then walked out without giving me a chance to reply. I felt humiliated, pressured, disrespected, and emotionally distressed. John Doe witnessed Bob grabbing my arm; I talked to John later that afternoon. John said he was shocked by Bob’s actions, which he called “violent” and “uncalled for.”
Keep your notes in a safe place – not at the workplace.
- RETAIN copies of letters, memos, e-mails, faxes, etc., received from the person.
- RESPOND to criticisms or allegations in writing, and ask the bully to respond in writing.
- KEEP all memos and correspondence related to your work if the quality of your work is challenged.
- At this point, it may be necessary to file a complaint. It may be advisable to first consult with an employment lawyer in your community. You may work in an “at will” employment state, which means you can be fired for any reason except an unlawful reason (such as race or age discrimination). Know your rights so you have a realistic assessment of your options.
- If you COMPLAIN, it is extremely important to follow the process outlined in your employee or workplace policy manual. Complain to the individual who is identified as handling harassment complaints. The courts will interpret this as providing proper notice to management of the harassment and bullying. If your concerns are minimized, proceed to the next level of management. And make sure that your complaint states the problem; this is not the time to sugar coat the issue or worry about being the squeaky wheel. If you suspect, for example, that you are being bullied because you complained that you did not receive proper pay or that you are being bullied because of race discrimination, say so. Down the road, your account could be the basis for a retaliation or wrongful termination lawsuit.
Sadly, the Human Resources officer may not be an objective or neutral arbiter. He or she may perceive their role as acting as an agent for management. Management may perceive you to be a troublemaker and/or may view your abuser as more valuable to the organization than you. Therefore, provide management with as detailed a record as possible about what is occurring. At some point, management may recognize the bully is having a negative impact in the workplace or may begin to fear possible legal liability. Be aware that most targets of bullying quit or are fired. Some experts advise targets to immediately start looking for another job.
BUT DO NOT …
If you retaliate, you could appear to be a perpetrator. At the very least, this will confuse the manager who is responding to your complaint. Also, an estimated 70 percent of bullies are bosses and in these cases the power dynamics definitely are not in the target’s favor.
A bully boss may be a narcissist or a psychopath who is very deliberate about what he or she is doing, and also very skilled at manipulating management and co-workers. You may feel a range of strong emotions, including fear and anger. To the bully, however, it’s the equivalent of a chess game. The bully may try to manipulate you into making an impulsive and unwise move. As best you can, stay detached and focused. Don’t give the bully more ammunition than he or she already possesses.
* Patricia G. Barnes is an attorney with experience in both domestic violence and employment law.