Overcoming Workplace Bullying

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For as long as we can remember, people have condemned the office pecking order as something which counters everything we should represent – diversity, gender equality, and employee rights.  As assistants, we are no strangers to facing adversity however with fierce and ever growing representation of these key areas, the notion that an in-house queen/king bee still existing should be in steep decline. So what’s the reality?

While it’s nice to believe that adulthood means the end of lunchtime politics, encounters with overly sarcastic peers and demeaning gossip, unfortunately school bullies grow up and go to work, often transitioning into the sour apples of the workplace. The good news is that it’s relatively easy to suss a grown-up queen/king bee out. Negative behaviour tends to be habitual with the main offenders often targeting those around them with the intention to intimidate, undermine, or degrade. Gossiping, excluding others, public humiliation, and other confidence destroying behaviours are just some of the ways that workplace bullies attempt to make their mark.

Unfortunately, the research is pretty dire with our own study back in 2018 uncovering over 500 assistants having fallen victim to workplace bullying at some point throughout their career. More alarmingly was that over 90% of those who took part felt that they couldn’t report the bully without daily issues increasing and over 40% felt that looking for a new job would be more successful than confronting the problem head on.

So what should you do if you experience a colleague on a self imposed power trip and how do you tackle inappropriate behaviour in the workplace?

Warrior Pose – stand your ground!

Make sure you stay one step ahead of any negative workplace behaviours by identifying when a line is about to be crossed. Regardless of how big or small, be prepared and confident enough to communicate on how things make you feel and stand your ground.  You have the opportunity to nip things in the bud before you become an ‘easy target’ so make sure you take the opportunity when you can.

No one is saying that confronting a bully is easy but addressing a power imbalance within the workplace in real time is crucial to your long term success and mental wellness within your role. As assistants, we have enough to focus on without regular run ins with colleagues but brushing inappropriate behaviour off in its early stages means that you could be enabling the future mistreatment of yourself or your colleagues. It will undoubtedly be more difficult to tackle further down the line so know your worth and strike that warrior pose!

In the words of  Katy Perry – keep receipts…

If you suddenly realise that you have been subject to inappropriate behaviour but feel too uncomfortable or that it is too late to speak up, keep a written observation of who, what, when, where and why things started and have previously happened. When it comes to involving HR, you need to give context to any reports you might make of the bully or unacceptable behaviour. You need to have practical examples to use and reflect on with your boss/HR for them to proceed with an action plan that you feel confident in.

Keep it factual and avoid involving emotions. In the same way you should be saving all written praise to substantiate a request for a pay rise or promotion, start filing away any emails or other written evidence to corroborate your experiences with a workplace bully.

Talk to Your Manager (or someone else, if your boss is the bully…)

If you have tried your best to deal with the situation and feel as though you’re getting nowhere, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you should continue handling things yourself. As we said earlier in this article, you have enough on your plate as an assistant so keeping this to yourself will do you no favours.

Speak to your Manager (or someone else, if your boss is the bully…) and explain in full, the fire you have been fighting. Provide examples of the effort you have put in to squash any negative behaviours and explain that the conversation you are having is due to these being ignored. Ask for their help and develop a plan of action that you feel comfortable with.

As an assistant  sometimes it is your boss that’s the problem and dealing with unrealistic or difficult behaviour should never be part of your job description. If that’s the case, think about trusting a colleague with the advice that you need.

The key is to assess your specific situation and try to gauge the relationships within your company. It wouldn’t be advisable to speak to their best office buddy or someone who has a personal rapport with them outside of the office as should it filter down to them, it could make things worse.

For more information on workplace bullying or for additional support, you can contact BullyingUK here.