Bullying At The Workplace


Do you experience someone else trying to bully you while you go about doing your job? If so, is it something you’ve come to accept or are you doing something to put an end to it? If the bullying comes from the person in charge, is there anything you can actually do other than quit?

There are a number of people I’ve talked to over the years who work in jobs where bullying occurs on a fairly regular basis, and it’s as if the culture in that field, and that organization actually endorse bullying if you were to look at things from the outside. So when someone enters into that culture, it can come as a shock. Perhaps it really comes down to what bullying is defined as, especially if you were to complain and then be told, “Bullying? That’s not bullying, this is how we get things done here. If you aren’t up to it, maybe you aren’t cut out to work here”.

The construction and health care industries are two sectors where I myself hear most people talk of bullying as a routine experience. On construction sites, there is often a lot of loud noises, requiring workers to shout and talk loudly rather than engage in regular speaking voices. Working usually involves heavy machinery, dangerous conditions with steel beams and supplies being transported overhead, open cavities in the earth posing dangerous places to work in, things needing support, pneumatic hammers, drills, saws, welding equipment etc. It all adds up to dangerous working conditions in which new inexperienced workers are curtly told how to move, what to do, barked at if they stray into dangerous areas or behave recklessly.

And younger, fitter workers, who are big on strength and low on job ‘smarts’, are often the grunts performing the heavy lifting. So if an employer runs around barking and shouting work orders and, “get over here now”, or “take this up to Mac on the 7th floor and don’t kill yourself doing it” amount to bullying?

And in an Emergency Department of a hospital, does the behaviour of a senior health care professional come into question when getting annoyed and angry with being handed the wrong equipment by a newbie? If you’re expected, rather than asked to extend your shift by another 5 hours without regard for your plans is that bullying too?

Maybe at your work, it’s a guy who pokes his head into your cubicle and tells rather than asks you to park somewhere else after break because you’re in ‘his’ spot. Even when there are no assigned parking spaces. Or the person who blocks the exit/entry to your office and looms over you so they can talk down to you. What about the boss who rings you and says, “My Office now”, even when it’s routine, but the tone makes it clear you’d best be running not walking.

Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others. If you are feeling bullied, it’s pretty hard to function at your best. You might experience growing anxiety as you approach your workplace, your stomach churning as you furtively glance quickly left and right hoping not to catch a glimpse of whoever intimidates you. A good day at work is a day when that person is off ill, working off location, or on vacation. You start planning your own vacation around the times they’ll be at work so you can maximize the time that you don’t see or interact with them. This isn’t healthy behaviour.

So if you are bullied, one thing most organizations hope and expect you to try is to talk directly with the person and communicate just how you are feeling when they treat you a certain way and ask them to stop. Easier said than done sometimes. You might be advised to inform your own Supervisor prior to this so you are supported and they are close at hand if things don’t go well.

Secondly, if things don’t improve or you don’t get a good response, you can ask for someone to mediate a conversation between the two of you. And if you are fortunate to have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at your workplace, you might take advantage of a chance to bring your concerns there. Maybe a Union Steward is appropriate too depending on whether you are in a union and the situation.

Whatever you decide to do, doing nothing is the worse thing you can do. No one should dread going to work 5 days a week, and that long-term stress of being bullied can and will affect your work performance, and by association your references and a chance at promotions. Quitting or transferring are options to consider, and under certain conditions, might be the healthiest thing to do. It really depends on the job you have, and the likelihood of obtaining employment quickly if you must elsewhere.

Standing up to a bully can be very empowering, but also scary and take great courage. As surprising as it may seem, some bullies don’t know that they are having the effect they are on you because of how they behave, and just having a talk can clear some things up.

All the very best.

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