The Workplace Bully

By Sophia Denton

“ ’My stomach was in knots when I went to work,’ she said. ‘I was terrified.’ Erin (she asked Global News not to share her real name for fear of professional repercussions) has worked in media for years, but the bullying she experienced at her last job pushed her to her limits. The 39-year-old said her boss would frequently talk down to her and other employees and would get very upset if someone made a mistake. The toxic environment caused her to feel anxious at work, and made her question if she was capable of doing her job.”

Bullying has made a big leap from the school playground to the workplace and is a serious issue within North America.

Those who are victims of this behavior typically suffer from stress, anxiety, a lack of confidence, and/or low productivity and self-esteem. This not only has a strong impact on their professional lives but also on their personal well-being.

So, how do we know when we are being bullied and what does this look like? According to the Government of Canada, “bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could ‘mentally’ hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well. Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behavior that is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people. It has also been described as the assertion of power through aggression.”

This can include:

– Spreading rumors

– Making belittling comments

– Causing physical harm

– Undermining a person’s work

– Excluding someone from things like meetings

– Yelling or using profanity

Sound familiar?

I remember a fellow EA, who was being bullied at work, reached out to me when she realized that the situation was never addressed after filing a formal complaint with her HR department.

Why are bullies so confident in their mission to exert power over others, and why do some get away with it? Many bullies are high achievers who bring value to the company they work for. They may have a good report with senior-level executives and are often promoted or rewarded for their commitment and high productivity; this makes it easier for employers to turn a blind eye rather than address their inappropriate behavior.

When you’re faced with a bully what do you do if your employer provides you with little support?

Here are a few actions to consider:

Nip It In The Bud

Your first negative encounter with a bully should not go ignored – and, as intimidated as you may be, you must not let it show. For example, a response to a less aggressive encounter with a bully may be to show concern for their behavior. You can say, “John, is everything okay? You seem bothered. I ask because I didn’t appreciate the way you just spoke to me. Is there something troubling you? Let me know if you’d like to talk about it. I’m here.” For a more aggressive encounter, it is important to stay firm and let the bully know that their actions will not be tolerated. These examples may not work in every situation, but it lets the bully know that you are not threatened or intimidated by their actions, which may help prevent a pattern of behavior from occurring.

Seek Support From Your Boss

Your boss may be able to help you overcome the situation by supporting you and helping you address the problem; however, before confiding in your boss, ensure that they do not have a good report with the bully. If this is the case, you may want to reconsider as it may not be worth the risk if your boss mentions your discussion to them; this could make the situation worse.

 Start A Log/Build A Case

Start recording all negative interactions with this individual – include dates, times, locations, witnesses, words/emails exchanged and a description of what happened. This will come in handy when you file a complaint as you will be asked for examples. Having a record of interactions will easily show the frequency of incidents as well as a pattern of behavior. This will also show how serious you expect this situation to be taken.

File A Complaint With HR

It is a good idea to file a complaint with HR so that it is on record; however, remember that this may or may not be as effective as one would hope depending on your HR department. For example, filing a complaint with an HR department who does not have a bullying policy, yet has a focus on people, culture and values may be more likely to support you than one who is more focused on process.

Estimate The Cost Of Bullying

This is my personal favorite! Why not add concrete weight to your business case by calculating how much of a financial risk this bully poses to the company by taking into consideration turnover and lost opportunity costs, absenteeism & presenteeism, etc. You can use this as a strategy to better gain the support of a higher-up whose responsibilities are tied to the bottom line, i.e., the COO or someone under the COO. Click here for a strategic step-by-step guide on how to easily calculate these costs.

 Explore Your Right

We all have a right to feel safe within the environment we work, and employers have a responsibility to protect their employees. Explore your right by taking advantage of a free consultation with a lawyer.

When The Bully is Your Boss

If you are an EA reading this article, I’m sure you would agree that at some point in your career, if you haven’t already, you will likely end up working with an executive who feels that it is okay to talk down to you, yell, use profanity or possibly even throw things. It would be great if there was an easy solution that would change their behavior, but I’m afraid to say that there is not. If you’ve tried the steps mentioned above, talked to your boss or requested a transfer to another department and still nothing has changed, in my opinion, it is time to move on. No matter who the executive is that we work for, with all that we do, it isn’t our job to tolerate their inappropriate actions. We deserve better.

If you are being bullied and have received no support from your employer, you should ask yourself if this is the kind of environment/culture you care to be a part of? Remember, bullying starts from the top and if a company condones this behavior, then that is the type of environment it fosters. In the end, it will be up to you to decide if living in fear of your boss or coworker is worth it.