We often think of bullying as a problem that primarily affects children. You might imagine a schoolyard bully who threatens other kids with violence or steals lunch money.
In reality, bullying goes far beyond this cliche media trope. Bullying is a problem that affects people of all ages, including adults. Unfortunately, the workplace is one of the main places where bullying happens. In these settings, bullying doesn’t typically look like it does when it happens between young children.
Instead, you might find yourself being ostracized or deliberately left out of social “cliques” at work. You might be on the receiving end of mean jokes or feel like you have a target on your back when it comes to discipline.
If you’re getting bullied at work, here’s what you need to know, including your options for moving forward.
If you’re an employer or manager who wants to learn about how to prevent workplace bullying in your organization, read our blog from last year’s Bullying Awareness Month and contact MINES & Associates for mental health counseling services.
How do I know if it’s workplace bullying or harassment?
One question that many employees have is regarding the differences between workplace bullying and harassment. The truth is that the answer to this question is complex. Bullying and harassment often overlap, and the differences between them can depend on a variety of things.
The term harassment typically has legal connotations in the workplace. Your organization may have a zero-tolerance policy against workplace harassment, including discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower retaliation, and more.
Many bullying behaviors could be seen as harassment, especially when the victim is part of a protected class. But what’s legally considered “harassment” differs across states, and specific bullying behaviors may or may not be protected under anti-harassment laws where you live.
This doesn’t change the fact that both harassment and workplace bullying are harmful, and neither one has any place in the workplace. However – unfortunately – you may not have the same legal rights and protections if the bullying behavior you’re facing doesn’t qualify under your state’s harassment laws.
What to do if you’re the victim of workplace bullying
If you’ve been targeted by workplace bullying, there are ways to get through it. Being bullied can be an incredibly isolating experience, and it might feel to you like there’s nowhere to turn for support. But there are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
Consider counseling services
MINES & Associates offers mental health counseling services for victims of workplace bullying. We are here to support and improve the mental health of all our clients one step at a time.
Keep a record
It might be the last thing on your mind when you’re being bullied, but it’s important to keep a written journal of bullying incidents. Keep track of the details like when bullying happened, what happened, who the aggressor was, and who else observed or knew about it. Keeping a written log of all workplace bullying incidents can protect you down the road when you may need to provide this information for legal protection.
Know your rights
Harassment laws differ from state to state, but your organization may also have its own rules and regulations around workplace bullying. For example, specific behaviors like name-calling or starting rumors could be prohibited at your job.
Review your employee handbook and learn the policies of your workplace. You can also consider consulting with your human resources department or an outside legal team to figure out whether you may be protected by the law.
When you’re being bullied, it’s easy for feelings of anger and resentment to make you want to get back at the person who’s making your life miserable. You might be tempted to retaliate against the bully, but this may not be a good idea. If you need to bring bullying behaviors to management or even to a legal team outside of your job, then any retaliation behaviors could hurt your case.
As hard as it is, stay away from responding to violence with violence. Do what you need to to keep a cool head. If you find yourself needing further support, consider working with a mental health professional who offers counseling services.
Consider having an informal conversation
If you feel safe to do so, you can consider approaching the bullying through an informal conversation with the aggressor first. You can talk to the bully about how their behavior makes you feel and ask them to stop.
For example, you could say something like: “I’m not sure what your intentions are, but I don’t appreciate it when you talk about me behind my back. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, but it hurts my feelings and makes me less effective at work. Please stop. If you don’t, I’ll need to file a formal complaint.”
Take it to HR or management
If your bully doesn’t stop after you’ve talked to them, or if the bullying has gotten so severe that you don’t feel safe approaching them yourself, it may be time to take the issue to your HR department or your manager. Your workplace leaders should help you decide how you want to proceed and help you put an end to this behavior.
Things can get a bit trickier if you don’t feel safe with your manager; in some cases, it could even be your manager who is doing the bullying. In these cases, you can consult with third parties like your union rep, a legal representative, or a professional organization.
Call authorities if you’re in danger
Bullying behaviors range from excluding you from workplace cliques to active physical or emotional violence. If you are being physically harmed, or someone is threatening you with physical harm, then leave the situation immediately. Call the police if you feel like your life, health, or safety are in danger.
Take care of your mental health with counseling services
Lastly, keep in mind that being on the receiving end of bullying can be incredibly damaging psychologically. You’re probably carrying around a lot of stress and emotional pain, and it’s very important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself during this time.
A mental health counseling services professional can provide a safe space where you can explore your thoughts and feelings around the bullying and help you find a way forward. Counselors can also help you challenge any negative self-talk that might have arisen from being bullied. For example, they can help you understand that the bullying is not your fault.
Being the victim of workplace bullying can be very isolating and lonely, but you don’t have to go through this alone. MINES & Associates provides all of our EAP clients with 24/7 free and confidential counseling services. No one at your workplace will know that you talked to us, and we can support you through this very difficult time.
To Your Wellbeing,
The MINES Team