How to Deal with Workplace Bullies

Workplace bullies can make working your job a nightmare. Working a 9-to-5 is already stressful, but adding workplace bullies can lead to physical and emotional health problems.

I’ll never forget crying while on the way home after my first late-night shift at my very first job after graduating college. Up until that point, I had really liked the job and had learned a lot. It was only part-time, but at least I was working in my field, and I considered myself lucky compared to my college friends who were still looking for work.

I thought I had been doing good work there. I was still very green, but I did the best I could considering I was an introvert, the youngest person in the office, and working with people my parents’ age. Can you say culture shock?

My boss had the night off, and somehow, I got looped into working the night shift. My boss had told me a little about how things worked during the night shift, but I couldn’t have imagined or prepared for working with the night manager.

I don’t remember perfectly, but I do remember him bounding out of his office about every 5-10 minutes to question me about something. Our software was crap. I was doing the best I could with what I had, working on sections I had never worked on before.

No one offered to help me, but I dared not ask for anyone’s help.

I remember wondering how the night manager got that job if it stressed him out that much. I took comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only person he was berating. But at the same time, it left me feeling hopeless.

Did no one stand up to him?

I managed to end my shift without an emotional outburst. I didn’t want anyone to think I was an “angry black girl.” I almost broke down in the elevator but kept myself together because I knew security personnel would be able to see through the cameras. A nice security guard walked me to my car (it was past 11 o’clock at night), and once I got into the safety of my little Versa, the tears started coming.

Not only that, but I began to doubt myself.

How could I be so stupid? I must not be as good as I thought I was. Why didn’t I do this instead of that?

If you can relate to any of this, you’ve most likely been a victim of workplace bullying, also known as workplace aggression.

According to a 2008 study conducted by Dr. Judy Blando of University of Phoenix, 75% of participants in the study had witnessed mistreatment of coworkers during their careers; 47% had been bullied at some point during their careers; and 27% had reported being a target of a workplace bully within 12 months.

Those numbers are scary — more than scary. They suggest that the odds of encountering a workplace bully at some point during your career is nearly inevitable.

What is workplace bullying?

According to Wikipedia, “Workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of mistreatment from others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm.It can include such tactics as verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation.”

In my six years of working full-time after college graduation, I’ve encountered two workplace bullies.

Here’s how I dealt with those situation and what I learned:

1. Let HR know you are having trouble with a bully, so they can keep a record.

It’s especially important for HR to know so that over time if other complaints are filed, they can refer to those records, and take the proper disciplinary actions. Be sure to include the date of incidents, details, what was said or what the bully did in particular, and remember to ask management for a solution.

After that awful late-night shift, I told my parents about what happened. My mom works in HR and she encouraged me to reach out to my boss and let her know what happened before my next shift. Hesitantly, I emailed my boss the next day, assuring her that I wasn’t one to complain about others, but that this situation was unique. I had never felt so disrespected and condescended in my life.

The next time I was at work, my boss told me that the night manager acted like that with everyone. He wasn’t at the top of the food chain, but he was second in command, so there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it. I remember telling myself that there was no way I could work in an environment like that. But after a few months, I learned how to toughen up, keep my head down, and make sure I was working fast enough to meet my deadlines.

2: Ignore workplace bullies as best you can. Don’t play their game.

Bullies really are just insecure individuals who are trying to control you.

The second workplace bully I encountered was an editor with a very negative attitude. We were the only two people who worked on Sundays, and we were supposed to edit each other’s work and leave at the same time. He was always leaving early. I would edit his work, but he wouldn’t edit mine. One night he left early, leaving a blank page open, and I had to fill it in, giving me extra work.

I let my bosses know about the incident and sent an email to the editor about the blank page. He copped an attitude and yelled at me to shut up in front of everyone.

I didn’t handle it as best as I could have. I yelled right back at him and excused myself to the bathroom so I could calm down.

It takes a lot for me to get mad. I’m one of those people who will shove down my feelings until one thing sends me over the edge and I blow up like a bomb. Not very professional.  But neither of us got in trouble for disrupting the work environment. The editor was never disciplined for his actions. (There was no HR department at that company.)

But after that, I don’t think I ever said another word to him. Any time we had to work together on Sundays, I completely ignored him. He tried to give me a piece of candy once as a bribe. I flicked it off my desk.

Again, I won’t say my behavior was very professional, but it kept me calm, and he never bothered me again.

3: If you are ever in a situation where you feel like you are going to have an emotional outburst (or breakdown) in the workplace, excuse yourself and take a walk.

Breathe. Use a stress ball or toy to squeeze. But remember to stay calm.

Having to deal with workplace bullies can oftentimes lead to poor health. You never want to get to that point. But if it happens, talk to your doctor for proper medication. Just know that your health is much more important than your job. I know it can be tough to leave, especially when you’ve done nothing wrong.

But eventually management should be able to see that the one particular employee is running people off, which isn’t good for business. Find solace in that the bully will (eventually) get what’s coming to them.

Karma almost always comes back around.

4. Know that you were hired for a reason.

Most workplace bullies target people who excel at work and have great work ethic. They will try to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong or that you aren’t good enough. Know your worth. You most likely haven’t done anything wrong or wouldn’t have done anything wrong had the bully left you alone. If the bully is your boss and you don’t feel comfortable warning them of filing a complaint, go to HR or the bully’s boss.

Want to know more about workplace bullying?

Check out these websites:

Have you ever been a victim of workplace bullying? Tell your story in the comments below! Let’s encourage each other!