Written by: Cally Worden
If you’ve ever suffered at the hands of a workplace bully then you will be all too aware of how devastating their actions can be. While workplace nastiness can be overt, it more often manifests itself in subtle ways, that can be hard to pin down and difficult to counter without sounding petty.
Self-esteem and confidence can be eroded before you know it. There are laws to protect all workers from bullying and harassment. Employers are responsible for ensuring that the right of all employees to work in a safe environment is upheld. If you, or someone you know, is suffering at work, here are some things you need to know.
What is Bullying and Harassment?
Bullying has many forms, from outright physical, to virtually invisible psychological abuse. It includes behaviour that is insulting, intimidating, malicious or offensive, or any actions that creates a hostile environment towards an individual. Abuse of authority is also considered to be a form of bullying, along with actions that undermine or humiliate a person.
The term ‘harassment’ also covers a range of behaviours, any of which result in the violation of the dignity of the victim. This can include the creation of an atmosphere of hostility, intimidation and humiliation. It may constitute a breach of the Equality Act 2010 if specifically related to a protected characteristic, such as race, religion, age or sex. In these circumstances, may also be considered to be a form of bullying.
What to Do if you are Being Bullied
In order to make a serious complaint of bullying or harassment, victims need to take some simple steps. Following this advice will place you in the strongest possible position:
1. Keep a written record of any instance of harassment or bullying that you experience. Note when and where it happened and if anyone else was present. Note down past incidents you can recall too. It’s important to keep track of even the most minor events. Workplace bullying is often a pattern of behaviours that occur over a prolonged period of time – many apparently inconsequential incidents can combine to form a clear picture of consistent and regular abuse
2. Consider speaking to the person who is bullying or harassing you. They may not be aware of the upset their actions are causing. In some cases you may feel unable to do this, so ask a supervisor, colleague or union rep to step in to assist
3. Raise the issue with your employer. There will normally be procedures in place for you to raise complaints such as this, so find out what they are and empower yourself. If the line manager is part of the problem, then approach the next tier of management up, or go direct to the HR department
4. Contact your Union Rep. If you are a member of a union then they can help you to understand your rights, guiding you through the process of making a formal complaint
5. Look beyond your company doors for assistance if you need it. Getting advice from a solicitor, or contacting an occupational health service programme can also provide the support and guidance you need
Things to Remember
The perpetrators of bullying and harassment in the workplace are no more than grown-up playground bullies. Like all of their kind they are cowards, they have issues of their own that drive them to behave in the way that they do. Sadly, none of that knowledge is particularly helpful.
Bullies play on fear – they know you are worried that reporting them will cause the campaign of nasty behaviours to escalate. And if they think about it at all, they know that if you find the courage to report them, they will most likely just receive a warning of some kind and remain in their current position. They have to do something pretty horrific in order to get the sack. This knowledge gives them power.
It is in this climate of fear that bullies thrive. The only way to beat them is to confront them head on and consequences be damned. But it’s not easy to do that when you are afraid, feeling depressed, demoralised and beaten. Especially if you also know that the culture of the organisation you are in, is one where you may end up still having to work alongside the person concerned.
In many cases, sadly, the only real way out is to leave. Find another job. Walk away from the abuse and move on. It will help your self-esteem enormously, however, if you can, challenge the bully before you leave. If no one ever stands up to these people they will keep on behaving the way they do. They may still continue, even after you have successfully reported them. But at least you will know that you have stood up for yourself.
Bullying and harassment are never the victim’s fault. Never. Be strong. Be true to yourself, and don’t let the bully get you down. You are the stronger and better person. Remember that.