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Working with a Bully

Workplace Safety

Bullying at work is the repeated, health or career endangering mistreatment of one employee, by one or more employees. The mistreatment is a form of psychological violence and is often a mix of verbal and strategic insults preventing the target from performing work well.

Being the target of a workplace bully can affect your physical and mental health, it can impact other areas of your life, such as affecting social bonds or your enjoyment of work. Forty-five per cent of targets suffered stress-related health problems, including anxiety, panic attacks, and clinical depression.

In a study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 37 per cent of workers have been bullied, with 57 per cent of the targets being women. The majority of bullies (72 per cent) are people in positions of authority. Whereas peer bullies are less frequent at 18 per cent. Worse, statistics show these bullies don’t pick on the new guy, but long-term, well-established employees. The most common victims are women in their 40s.

Tips on how to deal with a bully in your workplace:

1.     Understand the bully

Knowing the type of person you are dealing with can help determine how best to defend yourself. Often these bullies will recruit others to help. Males tend to favour using other management, while females recruit from the social network.

  • Subtle bullies – torment their targets with quiet but piercing techniques. Is a two-faced, passive-aggressive destroyer of reputations through rumour spreading, controls target’s reputation.
  • Abusive bullies – hound a target employee without mercy, and humiliates target in a public setting.
  • Controlling bullies – control target via withholding resources (e.g. time, budget, autonomy, training) necessary to succeed.
  • Raging bullies – intimidate everyone in the vicinity with their out-of-control anger.
  • Echo bullies – are not normally abusive, these bullies mimic bullying behavior with their own subordinates.
  • Opportunistic bullies – are competitive people who are interested in making career gains even though it may involve stepping on other people.
  • Critic bullies – falsely accuse and undermine targets behind closed doors, attempting to control the target’s self-identity.

2.     Identify the type of bullying

  • Unrealistic job demands.
  • Unreasonable criticism.
  • Creating an inconsistent or unfair work environment.
  • Not giving credit where it is due.
  • Insults, putdowns, yelling, screaming, and other abusive behavior.

3.     Document the instances of bullying in detail

  • Document specifics, time and date.
  • Identify trustworthy allies.
  • Determine code violations.

4.     Determine a plan to resolve the bullying

  • Request a meeting time where you can confront the bully in a professional setting.
  • Seek assistance from senior management.
  • Seek third party mediation.
  • Seek legal advice.
  • Get medical attention.
  • Establish and protect boundaries.
  • Do not blame yourself.
  • Solicit witness statements.
  • Follow internal complaint processes.

Communicate the problems with the bully or two levels of management higher than the bully. Take precautions when taking the direct approach, it may result in undesired and unpredictable consequences. Complaining about the bullying may draw repercussions against the target rather than the bully. In many cases, the bully may be seen by management as “getting the job done.” Of people who reported bullying in the workplace, 13 per cent of targets were transferred, 40 per cent ended up leaving voluntarily and 24 per cent were terminated. In only 23 per cent of those cases was the bully punished. These numbers are certainly not encouraging to anyone hoping to resolve the issue.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to this problem. We must all work together to increase awareness of the issue and help to establish better workplace policies and labour laws to prevent bullying from happening in the first place.

Source: Workplace Bullying Institute,, and Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide by Robert Mueller

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