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How to Deal With Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace

Updated on August 2, 2016

We often think of bullying as something we turn our backs on when we leave the playground.  After all, we’re adults now and no one picks on us – right?  If you’re reading this then you probably know from experience that isn’t the case.  Bullies are everywhere.

So what is bullying and harassment?

The terms are often used interchangeably and seen as behaviours including:

· Constant and unnecessary criticism of competent staff or staff being given trivial jobs to do

· Shouting at staff members

· Ignoring or excluding staff members from work activities

· Setting staff members up to fail by giving them tasks beyond their capabilities without the right support or giving impossible deadlines

· Making the same person the butt of jokes all the time

· Blocking promotion

· Picking on people either in public or in private

· This may happen to a group or to individuals.

The list is endless but the key is that you feel the bully’s behaviour is unjustified and constant or frequent.

Bullying can seriously affect your health and for an employer this can mean lost resources as unhappy or sick employees are less productive. In addition they won’t speak well of the company to friends and potential customers, so it’s in everyone’s interests to stamp it out.

Know your rights.

Everyone has a right to a safe working environment, respect and dignity, and employers have a duty of care to provide this.

Laws will vary nationally and sometimes within States so check your local area legislation so that you know where you stand legally.  Hopefully you will never need to use the information in a legal challenge but it’s one of the first stages of helping you feel empowered to deal with what’s happening in your workplace. 

For readers in the US may help and for those in the UK the has advice and support.

What you can do.

1. Firstly decide in your own mind that enough is enough. It may help to talk to someone outside the workplace, perhaps someone who can help you to be objective and see where and what the problem might be. Bullying is an emotive issue and it’s easy to get caught up in an emotional spiral that stops you being clear-headed.

2. Speak directly to the bully. Bullies don’t like being confronted: stick to the facts; be calm and firm but not aggressive or emotional. Simply tell the bully that their behaviour has to stop. The other person may not even realise what s/he has been doing and be devastated that this has happened. Be prepared to forgive if this is the case, but make sure it doesn’t start again.

This isn’t easy to do but it is advisable to take action sooner rather than later. Bullying erodes self esteem and confidence which will make it much more difficult later on.

3. Tell a friend or colleague that this is happening. Bullying and harassment often happen behind closed doors so other people may also be suffering in silence.

4. If you can, try not to be alone with the bully. Have a witness and stay in a group of colleagues.

5. Keep a diary of what happens to you. How does it make you feel? Are you becoming unwell because of this? A diary can help with the stress of the situation as well as being a record of what’s going on.

6. Tell your manager or supervisor and if the manager or supervisor is the bully then tell his/her manager. Also tell this person about any medical help you are seeking as a result of the stress of bullying. If necessary make an official complaint.

7. Get union help. Your union (and if you’re not a member of a union, become one) will be able to give you support and advice for your own situation and industry even if the union isn’t recognised by your workplace. You can talk to a union rep in confidence and make an official complaint via them if the bullying/harassment doesn’t stop. If you have to leave your job due to the treatment you’re receiving, they will be able to help with an employment tribunal.

Workplace harassment and bullying can be devastating to people’s lives, especially in an age when jobs are scarce, but remember that you control your life. Have courage, get help and act sooner rather than later.


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    • Temirah profile image

      Temirah 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comment Iddant, and I'm sorry that you had such a horrible time with a bully. Bullying seems to be a hidden thing (like many sorts of abuse) as if it's the fault of the person who's being bullied. If it was more widely spoken about and we took action earlier bullies would be perhaps understand that their behaviour is unacceptable. Much easier said than done though. I hope you're now feeling stronger after your episode.

    • lddant profile image

      Leah, UnEarth'd! 6 years ago from Washington, DC

      I went through this for years, which made life a living hell in all aspects. Even after the bully was removed from our midsts, I believe many of us suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of what happened. What a great hub! So important and so relevant.

    • profile image

      IdeaSmith 7 years ago

      This article has been Ideamarked!

    • Fluffy77 profile image

      Fluffy77 7 years ago from Enterprise, OR

      Awesome and useful, I have been in this position many times before. Plus, have seen others treated in these ways too. I am getting to a place in my life now though that I feel life is just too short to live this way, and will no longer put up with it for very long any more. Thanks for writing this, a truly great hub were hopefully a bully might just learn from too.

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 7 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      I have seen some very ruthless bullies that really mistreated workers. They should have been fired. God Bless You. Good hub. I always vote up.

    • SamboRambo profile image

      Samuel E. Richardson 7 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      I appreciate this article. I feel I was "bullied" back in '91: a co-worker was talking behind my back and defaming my character. It ultimately turned out she was doing this because her husband was continually belittling her and "lowering her self-esteem to nothing," so she took credit for my designs, and made me look bad to everyone else. When a new person came to the company, they were friendly to me. Then one day, they suddenly were sour, for no reason. I had a nervous breakdown over that situation. I guess there's not much I can do about it any more, as two decades have passed since then. Maybe I'll have to write a hub about it.

    • Temirah profile image

      Temirah 7 years ago

      Denise, I feel for your situation. Sometimes the in 'caring' profession we just don't look after our own very well. I agree with TheSenior - she may be intimidated by you and talking to the Director of Nursing (take a colleague for moral support/as a witness), talk to other colleauges in confidence and consider union membership. I really wish you the very best of luck - take action and be brave.

    • TheSenior profile image

      TheSenior 7 years ago

      Denise - I went thru something similar - go and see the Dir of Nursing. Without knowing anything your manager is probably intimidated by you. Maybe the best thing is to be terminated and go on unemployment - just as long as there is no misconduct involved.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Congratulations-your hub is on the featured stories page. I read it through, b/c I'm currently being harrassed at work. I have no union, and it is my manager who continuously writes me up and is fabricating or manipulating the information. Her goal is to terminate me. It will be happening this Friday unless for some reason a miracle happens and I can convince the Director of Nursing that I was NOT intentionally insubordinate to my manager when I frankly did not hear her directive. Good article.

    • skeeter747 profile image

      skeeter747 7 years ago

      Good read !

    • Temirah profile image

      Temirah 7 years ago

      Thanks for that Senior. Much appreciated.

    • TheSenior profile image

      TheSenior 7 years ago

      Excellent article, very well writtn with consice answers.


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