Beat the Workplace Bully at their own Game …but Don’t Make Him or Her a Loser

It is not good enough for others to say they will stop doing something offensive – they need to act themselves out of bad behaviours.

Did you know that 50% of Australians have witnessed bullying in the workplace and have been unable to help mostly due to fear? Workplace bullying costs business up to $15 billion in lost production and employee leave annually 1 in 7 Victorian workers were bullied in the last 6 months *Source: Rob Moodie CEO Vic Health

While these statistics may disturb you, they may not surprise you – the sting of the bully goes deep and most of us either know someone who has been bullied or have been bullied themselves. Bullying has been described by Victoria Workcover Authority as “Verbal abuse, excluding or isolating employees, psychological harassment Intimidation and damaging the self esteem of others, practical jokes, abuse of power, repeated sarcastic remarks, assigning meaningless tasks unrelated to the job, asking women with families to stay behind when they don’t really have to, giving employees impossible assignments, deliberately withholding information that is vital for effective work performance, giving people the “silent” treatment’.

Ask anyone who has been bullied and their description usually includes words such as “torturous, destructive, cruel and devastating.” I guess it doesn’t really matter how you describe it – it is the cruelty of it that people don’t forget..

As CEO’s of businesses or employees in our workplaces, our responsibility towards our staff goes beyond their physical safety while they are at work. We are also the caretakers of their mental health and need to provide them with a safe emotional workplace, too. It is no easy task trying to eradicate bullying from the workplace. In fact, some people don’t know they are seeing is in fact bullying. Others may not have the same relationship with the bully as the one who is being bullied, or they may not find the behaviour so disturbing.

Additionally, some people don’t even want to get involved and become passive bystanders because they don’t understand the consequences of the behaviour or they are fearful that if they interfere there will be negative consequences for them. This could include job loss or demotion, isolation and being a ‘left out’ . They may not know what to do or how to help, or don’t particularly ‘like’ the person who is having trouble therefore not really interested. Sadly, there are those who may have even experienced bullying themselves in the past and are still feeling the effects of the trauma or hurt.

However, bystanders also get affected by bullying – 20 per cent of bystanders will leave their job, others will have sick days and suffer poor morale. And the cost to industry is enormous – bullying is everyone’s problem Source: Evelyn Field Author “Bullybusting”

It is the duty of every employer to encourage an environment that is consultative i.e. To encourage dialogue between staff and management. In this way an employer can establish whether bullying is a problem in the workplace and what people are feeling. Early detection can be discovered and also give the bully an understanding that the workplace will not tolerate inappropriate behaviours. Employers are also responsible to create a workplace that promotes awareness of issues and their commitment to a workplace that is comfortable for all. Here are 5 strategies to help you and others deal with the problem of bullying in the workplace, or as one organization recently said “We don’t have bullying here – just difficult people who don’t get on” Remember that you are not alone – millions of people experience bullying the workplace and school. Sometimes it is verbal; sometimes it is physical – often behind closed doors when there are no witnesses to see what has happened. Bullies are careful where and when they choose to offend. They often work hard at building friendships with those who are more influential, and consequently it makes the other person feel even more isolated and vulnerable. Encourage your staff to speak up at first sign of being bullied. Examples include being left out of meetings, possessions or files may be hidden or they are not being given messages. Inform staff that they should assert their right not to be bullied.

Recognise that your child doesn’t have to handle it alone. Speak to all teachers at their school about your concerns – not just the class room teacher. Bullying behaviour does not usually stop at one person being attacked. Others may also fear the offender. Bullying has a psychological impact on self esteem and ability to manage tasks. The workplace usually offers counselling or support – take it. Don’t try and manage on your own.

Keep a journal of everything that happens. Ask your child to write down what happens and how they feel. Tell them not to tell anyone about their journal – just you. This document is evidence when needed to substantiate their concerns and complaints.

Don’t engage with the bully by mirroring his/her behaviour. Avoid showing anger – rather show assertiveness in tone and body language. The bully often wants to insight frustration or anger on your part which in turn makes them look less guilty. A simple technique is to tell the bully that what they are doing is bullying behaviour that is cruel and hurtful – not just to you but to others. By getting it out in the open it loses some of its power.

Remember, bullies will often bully because they believe they can get away it with either loudmouthed behaviours or targeting someone who does not know how to confront a negative situation directly. Often they can. People will only be bullied if we give permission to that other person to continue doing what they are doing.

The final strategy in beating the bully at his own game is to ensure that we don’t make him a loser in the eyes of others at school or at work. Where possible don’t set the bully up to be embarrassed or humiliated publicly. Try and find solutions that are more private and deal with the person’s readiness to change behaviours rather than what he/she did wrong.

If we only alleviate our pain the likelihood is that that bully will re-offend at another time in another way, or with someone else and maybe even more revengeful than before. Eradicating bad behaviour is a far better long term outcome for all.