We’ve always imagined bullies to be the mean-spirited, heavy-set teen figures skulking dark school alleys waiting for a hapless student to unleash mayhem upon. Or if that is too grotesque, the chubby guy who snatched your launch money every time you went by the school canteen or the other guy who wouldn’t allow you play at the school playground with the other kids.
Those are stormy memories from our very distant past but today the dynamics are fast changing. The bully today is that same guy of the past, albeit now an adult, who has simply gone on to adapt his childhood mischief to intimidate other adults at the workplace. Workplace bullies behave similarly like teen bullies and in addition to intimidating their victims, they may spread rumors to tarnish a co-workers reputation, or deliberately fail to invite a co-worker to a team meeting. They may also make fun of their co-workers or tell inappropriate jokes at the victim’s expense. In other instances it might be your superior trying to humiliate you before other co-workers by shredding your report to pieces, shutting you up, or ignoring your input at a workers meeting. Bullying poisons goodwill among co-workers, destroys office morale, shackles work productivity and creates a negative work environment. The unfortunate thing about office bullying is that the adult victims don’t usually realize when they are been bullied and would sometimes even try to play it down or explain away the bullies actions until it eventually results into something far worse like harassment.
Usually workplace bullies are individual with nagging self-esteem issues who seek to boost their ego by targeting other weaker colleagues at the workplace other reasons for bullying may include:
- they may feel you are a getting too much credit for a job well-done while they just the opposite.
- They may feel you are a rising star at your place of work while they are stuck as mere pencil or paper pushers.
- They may feel intimidated by your sheer talent and prospects and look to flat -tire your growing self-confidence
- It may even be that bullying is their own way of blowing off steam after a grueling day at work – it just makes them feel better.
At the very bottom of bullying there is always the element of envy or jealousy. When the office bully is a co-worker it’s easier to deal with it by cleverly shrugging it off and in serious cases, report them to your superiors at the workplace for prompt administrative sanction. However, the situations is somewhat complex when the bullying emanates from your own superiors. In the later scenario employees are usually behind the eight ball in knowing the right cause of action to take since a lack of tact in handling the situation could pre-empt an outburst from the perpetrators and result in your sack.
How Do You Deal With Workplace Bullies?
So when you have identified a recurring situation at work as bullying, how then do you deal with it? That is an important question and the steps you could take would often depend on the nature and circumstances of the bullying. There are steps for the milder situations and there are those for the serious types which in certain instances could warrant legal action. For the less serious types of bullying here is what you should do.
- When someone says something rude about you, you can pretend you didn’t hear them.
- When someone tells a joke at your expense, just laugh it off.
- When someone always makes you uncomfortable, you can take up the issue with them in making amends
- If someone harps on a mistake in your work, you can offer a sincere apology and offer to rectify it.
In the other more serious situations (like those involving sexual harassment), the steps above will likely not work so you may try taking more serious measures to arrest the situation. You can do the following.
- File an internal complaint
Within any organization lies a human resource department overseeing the welfare and wellbeing of employees and upon receipt of a complaint of bullying at the workplace could take decisive disciplinary action by having the perpetrator queried but where the bullying violates the rules of your work place, they may have the bully fired. You can lodge a formal complaint with them where you feel your safety at your workplace is under imminent threat. Never engage in any confrontation with an office bully as this is never effective.
- File a law suit
Where the bullying smacks of harassment whether sexual or otherwise, then the best thing you can do is to document the bullying as it unfolds which you could use as evidence in a potential lawsuit. Usually, this step would be recommended where the internal complaint you filed was either ignored or ineffective. You’d have to hire the services of a skilled lawyer for this line of action.
- Quit the job
You can’t remain in an abusive work environment where you keep getting a raw deal however immense the pay. This is one last trump card at your behest and you can always have recourse to it once you are persistently bullied at your workplace. You can at least enjoy telling them “You can’t fire me, I quit!”
This article does not represent legal advice. In every case, you are advised to enlist the professional services of a lawyer.
A youngish lawyer with penetrating insight, Patrick Herbert is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of Lawstudenthub, a site dedicated to helping new wigs find their footing in a trickily slippery legal profession and stay current with emerging developments in the legal industry. He holds an LLB from the University of Benin and a BL from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja. In his spare time, Patrick doubles as a professional writer and copyeditor.
If you have any urgent enquiries, you can email him @[email protected]