Have you been bullied at Work?
Having experienced bullying at work in quite a nasty way, I was still surprised by the results of a recent survey which teachers completed at my workshop, when c 70% said that either they had experienced bullying directly or that they knew someone who had. What’s your experience of bullying? Perhaps even worse, the same percentage said that the bullying either hadn’t been dealt with at all or that it had been dealt with badly.
For me it eventually affected almost every aspect of my working life because I felt so bad with the worry and the stress of it. I’m a nice person (well I think so) and I just never expected people to be nasty and – even worse – devious with it. Mental stress according to Safe Work Australia, costs businesses more than $10 billion a year and that was back in 2013!
Mrs Ann Sherry, the then Chair of Safe Work Australia, commented:-
“The personal impact of mental stress on workers is a serious and detrimental issue the worker and their families and also employers,” revealed Ms Sherry.
So why don’t employers take it seriously? When I asked my High School Principal last year about his goals, one of the main ones was ‘Productivity’. If you accept the findings that-
“Typically mental stress claims result in workers being absent from the workplace for long periods of time.”
Perhaps the word productivity isn’t well understood in most workplaces and particularly not in schools. To be truly productive, we need to feel well and we need to feel valued. Have a look at the chart below and see if any of the phrases ring true for you. If you’re the employer, or the office manager, reflect on these phrases and work out if you could be accused of either using some of these or just as bad, ignoring them. Have I done any of the things below myself. I have to say maybe.
TEN Tips for dealing with bullying at work
1. Awareness Training
The first step in eradicating bullying at work is Awareness Training. We don’t know what we don’t know and often we may be oblivious to the effect of our words or our actions. Taking time to monitor and reflect on your words and actions is a learned behavior and everyone can do it. Some employers would say that there is no time in a busy work schedule but if you’re working below capacity because of stress or you have to take time off, that has to be brought into the equation.
The irony of the many anti bullying campaigns in schools is that the people in charge seldom transfer those same ideas and processes to employees. Dealing with people who’re not getting on, is time consuming and it can be difficult but are the teachers less important than the students? Of course not! I would even go as far as to say that they are more important in organisational terms because if they are off sick or not working well, the students will suffer.
- Team Building to foster empathy
Within every office there are little factions or friendship groups. Big business believes in the value of team building exercises which focus on getting to know each other. Changing behaviours is a little bit more difficult but not impossible. Research shows that implementing what we learn on a course, has less than a 20% chance of happening so there needs to be a follow up session or sessions to reinforce the message.
- Don’t play the Underdog
After not one but two bullying scenarios at work I was lost to explain how my positive, mindful approach wasn’t working. Ryan our Chaplain at the time who acted as a counsellor, listened to my story and quickly pointed out that I was in effect, ‘baring my throat’ and showing that I was the underdog. Being nice and cosy with the Office Manager, he said, was giving her license to continue her vendetta because she had nothing to lose. OK, she was much higher up the ranking than I was so of course civility was important but I tried so hard to be nice to her, commenting on her new hair do or asking about her weekend. Trying to establish a rapport with A encouraged her dominant attitude and appeased her bullying nature so I was a soft target.
- Speak up in a non aggressive way. Don’t get into an argument. Move away
It takes a great deal of courage to be honest because we’re trained to appease people, we’re conditioned to thinking that we shouldn’t rock the boat. Eventually we reach the tipping point which means that we ‘blow up’ and possibly say damaging things. Instead I’ve learned to ‘speak my truth’ at the right time.
A new friend on a tour kept answering my questions which I’d directed at her neighbor across the table. Later that evening I sat next to her and said, “Anna, I don’t like it when you answer questions meant for someone else. Could you please stop doing that?’ Then I walked away. Anna may not have been aware of her annoying habit. We didn’t fall out over it which was a bonus. Did Anna change? She was aware of her habit and knew that socially it wasn’t the thing to do. I didn’t engage in a conversation which might have become emotional and damaging. I didn’t try to fix things.
- Get the others in the office on board
This isn’t easy unless people are aware of your feelings. It isn’t easy because people switch off quickly when someone is always complaining. In my first office bullying saga I made an emotional appeal at the lunch table to my colleagues which only seemed to embarrass everyone. I do think it had some effect but not in terms of speaking out. I think everyone was scared that this lady would turn her ire on them. My line manager seldom if ever saw the bullying and though I spoke to her, nothing much happened. She didn’t know what to do other than telling the person off. Professional Development Days with team building exercises and dealing with bullying behavior can go some way to improving perception and empower the group to stand up to the bully. If the team hold together, the bully can’t function.
- Getting through to a boss who is a bully
One in a hundred people have psychopathic tendencies. Four in a hundred CEO’s of companies have psychopathic tendencies! Successful CEO’s perhaps need that ruthless streak but stress affects performance and attendance. That should mean something to the boss so talking about improving performance rather than bullying might be the key.
- Pin up a copy of the table above showing what constitutes bullying. Send an email with the table embedded in it. Make people aware of the negative impact of bullying in emails or conversations but avoid becoming emotional or confrontational. You can become the ‘expert ‘ on social and emotional wellbeing.
- Keep a note of incidents that demonstrate you are being bullied, being careful to write down the situation at the time. If your boss is criticising your work, that alone doesn’t constitute bullying. It may be a legitimate criticism.
- Try taking your evidence to the next person in the line of command and again, stick to the facts and state how things might be improved in your office without being personal.
- If nothing changes, keep your health and sanity. Look for another job.
The Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 defines workplace bullying as repeated unreasonable behaviour by an individual towards a worker which creates a risk to health and safety.
“Under occupational health and safety legislation, employers and employees are required to comply with any measures that promote health and safety in the workplace. Because of this duty, employers need to eliminate or reduce the risks to employees’ health and safety caused by workplace bullying.
As of 1 January 2014, the Fair Work Ombudsman can receive complaints from workers who believed they have been bullied at work.” Further information can be found at www.fairwork.gov.au/complaints