When we think of bullying, we consider it in the realms of the playground or the classroom. Unfortunately, bullying exists in adult life, too, with behaviour from intimidation and belittlement to verbal and even physical abuse existing in the workplace. Bullying at work, whether from a colleague or a manager, is a widespread problem – the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service [Acas] says it receives 20,000 calls each year relating to workplace bullying. If you're being bullied, there are a number of ways to deal with it, both informally and formally.
1. Confront the situation head-on by speaking to the bully
Approaching the bully directly might not feel like the most natural or comfortable step to take, but speaking to them could make them see that you're unwilling to put up with their behaviour. “Bullying at work can be soul-destroying and have a devastating impact on your emotional health and wellbeing,” says Nishma Shah from Bullying UK, a leading charity providing advice and support to anyone affected by bullying. “If you are going through workplace bullying, your first move could be to have a conversation with the person who is making you feel uncomfortable and let them know that they are going too far and that you want them to stop. Sometimes, this can be enough.” Shah recommends involving a colleague when you do this. “It's important to have someone with you so they can provide moral support and ensure that things are calm.”
2. Keep a diary
If you're being bullied, it's important to keep a log of all the incidents. Whether the bullying is taking place face to face or through email or social media, note the dates and times, the location, any pictures of any messages and, if applicable, who else was present. Also record how each of the incidents made you feel, including any impact on your health and work. “Logging this information is important for a number of reasons,” explains HR and resourcing specialist Lydia Fairman. “It helps the person hearing the grievance to properly investigate and uphold allegations and deal with them appropriately. Equally, if there's a legal case such evidence will be key, as often it's one person's word against another.” Such detailed information can also be valuable in making the bully aware of the impact and consequences of their behaviour. “This will help them develop and modify their behaviour, and undertake learning and training where that's possible,” says Fairman.
3. Speak to your colleagues or manager
If you can't face dealing with the bully directly, or if speaking to them doesn’t work, confide in your nearest – and more empathetic – co-workers. “Seeking advice and support from colleagues who can understand your perspective and help you deal with the situation is extremely important,” says Shainaz Firfiray, Associate Professor at Warwick Business School. “If this is not possible, involve a third party, such as a supervisor or a line manager.” When speaking to your colleagues or manager, keep level-headed and explain the situation to them and the impact of the bullying on you. They will either try to resolve it with the bully or suggest the next best steps.
4. Take it to HR
If informal routes to deal with the problem haven’t worked, seek guidance from HR. You could ask a colleague or manager to come with you. Prior to the meeting, consider the kind of action you'd like. For example, do you want the bully to apologise and stop, or for them to be moved to a different department? HR may offer to speak to the person in question. If they do, clarify how they will do this, what they will say to them and what the expected outcome might be. Fairman says HR should “play a guiding and advising role throughout this process and be there for the employee as much as the employer.”
5. Seek legal advice
If speaking to your manager or HR has not resulted in a positive outcome, the next step is to make an official complaint – and a formal investigation should follow. If a resolution cannot be reached with your employer, you could consider starting employment tribunal proceedings. “There is a strict timescale to do this,” explains Philip Landau, an employment lawyer at Landau Law Solicitors. “The process needs to be started by lodging the claim with Acas no later than three months less one day from the date of termination of your employment or from the last act of any discrimination.” Alternatively, says Landau, you could resign and claim constructive dismissal if you have worked for your employer for more than two years, or you could try to negotiate an exit from your employment in return for a financial settlement.
6. Stay calm, stay professional
However you decide to deal with the bullying, it’s important to stay calm and professional throughout the experience. “It can help to use 'helicoptering' – a term used in clinical psychology to distance yourself from the situation,” says clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew. “If you imagine yourself helicoptering above the situation, it can give you a fresh insight or more objective view free from the emotion of what you are going through. This can be helpful because bullying can cause you to feel overwhelmed, disempowered and small. So techniques that can allow you to move away from this and enable you to act can be helpful.” Also, remember that no-one deserves to be bullied. Don't suffer in silence, and don't wait too long to combat it. If you don't feel comfortable speaking to colleagues, confide in family and friends who you know will support you as you start to take action.
by Suzanne Bearne