How to Stop a Bully at Work and Move On
You hate going to work. The coffee stinks, it’s always too hot or too cold and you never get phone reception for some reason. But that’s not why you hate it. You hate your job because a bully at work has made your life hell.
Everyone has the right to work in a good place. Unfortunately, that often isn’t the case. It’s expected that half of all Australians will experience workplace bullying in their lifetime and 6-7% report it having occurred within the last six months.
You don’t deserve to be treated that way. No one does. It’s essential for your continued well-being that you do what you can to put an end to bullying behaviour.
Make a Record
I know this might feel like you aren’t really doing anything, making a record of instances when you are bullied can go a long way in getting management to stop it. If something happens, make a brief note of what happened, when and where it happened, and if anybody else was there who may have witnessed it. Try and record as much information about the event as you can remember. You want to be able to go to HR or your manager and say “So and So has been bullying me, here is a list of times that is has occurred.”
This is important because according to the Fair Work Act 2009 behaviour can only be classified as bullying if it occurs repeatedly. Having a list of all the times you were bullied shows your employer (and the Fair Work Commission) that, yes, it did happen more than once.
Even if you aren’t positive you are being bullied, making a list can help you work out what’s happening. Is it just a few separate incidents where you or that person were having a bad day? Or is it actually more systematic than you thought and you need to take further action.
Learn Your Company’s Policy
It’s likely that when you were hired your company gave you some documents that outlined their stance on bullying. This is good as place as any to start and will outline for you the process of reporting. It also should give you an idea of what the consequences are for bullying and what the bully can expect.
Talk to People
Being bullied can really affect your self-confidence. If you feel like you’ve been stuck with a bully at work, talk to friends, family, or a counsellor. You can talk about your feelings, what the bully is doing to you, and ask for advice. If you have already started making notes they might be able to give you advice about how they dealt with their own bully at work.
Find Your Witnesses
Your case against the bully will go much faster if you have a someone who can corroborate your reports of bullying. Having a witness can stop your complaint looking personal or trivial and tells your boss or HR that you are serious. It’s a good idea to speak to anybody who might have seen an incident or knows what goes on between you and your bully.
Speaking to them before organising a meeting is a good idea because you can see how they will react. Are they supportive and will they help you with your complaint? Are they anxious about causing waves and just want to sit on the fence? Or are they on the side of the bully? You don’t want to call upon someone to help you if you don’t know which person they are going to side with.
Help Someone Else
If you see one of your co-workers being bullied by another staff member or their boss, speak to them! Letting somebody know that you see what they’re going through and that you are supportive of them can make a real difference. You don’t necessarily have to step in and stop the bully right there (that might make it worse for the victim later). Instead, tell them that you will be a witness for them if they want. You can also offer to go and have a coffee with them to chat about how they’re feeling.
By talking to people who want to avoid the bully’s clique and the toxic culture, you can create a network of like-minded workers. This positive atmosphere of people who look out for each other can form a much safer and happier working environment.
Organise a Meeting with Your Boss
You’ll want to make sure you have your boss’ full attention for this. Arranging a meeting is a good way to make them take it seriously rather than dropping it on them over a morning coffee. You want to do this earlier rather than later since the sooner you get the ball rolling, the sooner the bully at work can be dealt with. Once you have evidence and have spoken to any potential witnesses, you can arrange a meeting with your boss.
Before you speak to your boss, make sure your ducks are in a row. That means bringing in your notes and being prepared to tell your boss how you have been feeling. This can make you feel vulnerable or silly but is an important step in getting them to understand how serious the situation is.
Speak to HR
If you’ve already spoken to your manager then they might choose to bring in HR to deal with the bully. However, sometimes it can be better to go to HR directly. It’s generally better to go to your supervisor first but there are sometimes when it’s better to go to HR or your boss’ boss directly.
- You have already approached your boss about bullying and nothing has been done
- Your boss IS the bully
- Your boss is really close with your bully and you don’t trust them to be impartial
Whether you are speaking to HR or your boss, don’t tell them what they should do. Even if your company’s policy makes it crystal clear what the course of action is. Telling your boss to fire Todd because he is a bully will undermine your calm and composed argument. They already know the policy and will (hopefully) make the right decisions.
Organising a meeting can also help you stay professional. Being bullied is an emotional subject but you need to maintain a calm demeanour. This applies when you are talking to your manager or to HR. It also means that if you are being bullied that you don’t overreact. Stand up for yourself but make sure you do it in a professional manner. You don’t want to have to explain to your boss why you were involved in a yelling or physical fight. Being calm will also help you remember everything more clearly for your notes.
Getting overly emotional can make it seem like you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Worse, it might seem like you are acting in the heat of the moment when instead you want to present a considered and well-supported argument.
Part of the reason that bullying is so hard to prevent is because its so insidious. Be prepared to face a backlash from the bully’s friends and supporters. Even people who aren’t aligned either way may side against you if the wrong people get in their ear. Even worse, depending on your management, your boss may not like you causing a fuss for them.
Tell yourself that this bully isn’t going away on their own. You need to be strong to make sure that they get what’s coming to them and you can move on with your life.
But Don’t Give Up!
Unfortunately, sometimes your complaint won’t make a real difference. It might stop things for a while but eventually the bully at work will be back.
There is an upside though. Their return doesn’t mean you are doomed to suffer until one of you leaves. Instead, go back to your boss and tell them it is happening again.
You may be able to offer alternatives that would help you out and make things better. Maybe you could be transferred to a different location or department or get the flexibility to work from home more.
Know When to Walk Away
I know it can feel like a cop out but sometimes quitting is the best option. You walking away doesn’t mean that the bully has won.
If you know that you have done everything you can then don’t feel bad. Even if the situation was so bad that you just had to get out, it’s still not your fault. Sometimes the best option is actually to walk away and forget it all. Just let that dumpster fire of an organisation burn itself out.
Updating your resume and knowing that you are going to find a better opportunity can make you feel better. Going to work with a bully won’t be easy but it will be better knowing that once you get a job lined up you can bolt. You can even start working on your next job while the HR wheels are still turning. That way if it doesn’t work out you won’t waste any time waiting.
Leave It Behind You
Here’s one thing to bear in mind if you quit. At your next job interview, you’ll typically be asked why you left your last position. Don’t say personal conflict, or bulling, or mismanagement. Even if it was all of those things it can make you sound bitter or like you were also part of the problem. Don’t let a bad situation at your last job jeopardise your new one. Instead, say something like you want to experience new challenges or grow professionally.
- Start logging instances where you are bullied to help you remember and provide evidence
- Speak to people – including witnesses and victims who can help your complaint and friends, family and counsellors who can help you mentally
- Speak to your boss or HR and provide your evidence
- Prepare your resume to jump jobs if it doesn’t get better
Getting Past Your Bully at Work
Having a bully at work can be extremely demoralising. Even if you leave and find a great next job, it can still feel like they won. They made you leave, they made you run away. That’s not the case.
When you walk away from a bullying co-worker or boss, you are saying that you deserve better treatment. You are taking a stand and demanding that your job won’t affect your health and well-being. Leaving because of a bully is the same as leaving because of bad pay, low flexibility, or lack of future. You wouldn’t beat yourself up over leaving for those reasons, so don’t do it for bullying. It’s just not worth it.
I usually like to ask you to share your stories in the comments with me (and please do!). However, it’s not a bad idea talk to a professional about your bullying experiences – especially if it’s currently happening. A professional can listen to your situation and give you advice about what you are feeling.
Lifeline: Call 13 11 14
beyondblue: Call 1300 22 4636