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/Stephanie Morgan Help! I’m being bullied at work

If you read my recent blog, ‘Is it me or am I being bulled?’, you may have recognised something in it that you could identify with.

I am currently coaching someone who came to me with the question “is it me, only my manager doesn’t seem to like me anymore and I can’t understand what I have done; I feel stuck and powerless to do anything about it."

After establishing the facts and deducing that it was not her at all, the behaviour of her manager was at best odd, and at worst the start of consistent and persistent bullying. Normally she would not hesitate to talk to her manager about anything but this felt completely different.

Think about it, are you able to tell your partner, best friend, mother, something personal about the way they behave and the impact they have on you? When we grow up we often learn how to sulk, how to cry, and how to hide our feelings but not how to express them healthily and non-judgementally.

Giving anyone that sort of feedback is a very skilled thing to do, but it is even more difficult if they are your manager and they are constantly undermining you, making sarcastic comments to you or even worse. Perhaps, if you can’t tell them, you are thinking “just report them”, but, believe it or not, when you are in this situation, that can seem an absolutely impossible thing to do. In typical fight or flight mode, the other option is to leave, but in this day and age, realistically that is not an option for most people.

When anyone comes to me for help my number one thought is what do they really want as an outcome? In this situation it is usually to just make it stop, however, getting to that point requires quite a bit of support and careful challenge.

The person I am working with is adamant that they do not want to take any specific action or tell anyone at work, whilst at the same time they still want it to stop. Of course, if they don’t take any action it is very unlikely to stop, which is where the support and careful challenge comes in. What we have agreed is that we will work together to get to a place where they can take action or seek support and advice from someone in the business who can help them to make this situation stop.

Our strategy is simple and straightforward. They need to separate themselves from the situation, not physically (although you must do this if you are in danger) but mentally, seek support and take positive steps towards ending the situation. What that means in reality is different for everyone, but for all the people who feel bullied in work right now, I am sharing this in the hope it might help you too.

Separate yourself from the situation

It is very easy to think that you are going mad. A bully has the ability to make you question your own sanity, for example, the person I am coaching has found themselves being asked to do certain tasks that NO ONE else is ever asked to do or that even really need doing. On the occasions when she has carefully and politely asked why the tasks need carrying out, or why she might need to do them, their manager gets exasperated at the question and implies they “should know”.

You can imagine how they feel. This is a power game. It is as basic as being asked for your pocket money in the playground or else they will put your head down the toilet!

To look after yourself you need to start separating yourself from the situation. This means noticing what is happening, decide for yourself if this is acceptable or normal, make a note of it, and don’t take it personally. It is quite difficult to not take bullying personally, but by analysing it, satisfying yourself that you are not going mad and you do not deserve it, you take some of the power out of the incident.

You definitely should consider writing a journal. This has two benefits, one is a step towards being able to do something about it, but it is also another way of observing what is happening and reflecting on the impact it has on you. Writing it down helps your brain cope and helps you to see things in perspective. By gaining perspective, the incident is much less likely to play over and over in your head, and it puts some distance between you and what is actually happening.

Another way to separate yourself from the situation is to recognise that the bully is trying to take your power from you, or hold their power over you, but power is not actually a physical thing. Recognising that may help you put some distance between you and the situation.

Seek support

Help! I'm being bullied at work

You really must tell someone, preferably someone in the organisation who can support you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an official route straight away, for example if you are in a trade union, they will help you look at what is happening and explore how you might handle the situation. In addition, lots of employers offer confidential employee assistance programmes with private helplines where you can talk things though with someone who is impartial and able to offer you help and advice, or just support. Some organisations even have trained staff who can give impartial, confidential support to people who feel they are being bullied, and that is definitely something worth taking advantage of.

If none of those are an option right now, you still need someone to speak to and seek support from; perhaps a friend or trusted colleague can help you talk it through. Ask them to help you critically assess the situation – for example, what's usual, what are other peoples experiences - is there a different perspective, one perhaps you had not considered? It is always worth checking that you are not misreading or misunderstanding what is happening. Having context can often completely change a situation. And even when that is not the case, a problem shared is a problem halved.

Positive steps

There are as many different options as there are situations, but in every case, the positive steps to consider are those that will help you be more able to take control of the situation by either talking to the person concerned or reporting the incidents more formally. Some of the basics steps are:

  • Making a note of the incidents; what factually happened, what impact did that have on you, who else was there who might have noticed what had happened
  • Keeping a record/copy of emails or other written evidence
  • Establishing exactly what your company policies are in these situations

It might also be a time to learn some new skills, assertiveness for example, to help you challenge the behaviour and assert your basic right to expect to work in a professional and safe environment.

It is quite natural to feel hurt or angry in these situations, so another positive step might be to improve your personal resilience, so that the way you react in stressful situations is more positive and healthy.

When all is said and done bullying in the workplace can be the most difficult and debilitating situation even for very confident and senior people. It is insidious and I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to either tell the person concerned how they are making you feel, and take it further if it cannot be resolved personally, or report it via the proper channels so that it can be investigated and stopped. Bullying puts your mental wellbeing at risk and action should always be taken sooner rather than later.

I cannot start a JustGiving fund for people who are being bullied in the workplace, like Paul Trueman did for Helen from The Archers, but I really hope these suggestions would help anyone who is experiencing it.

Do you want your managers to be able to recognise this might be happening so they can nip it in the bud? We offer a range of programmes that can help managers identify the signs of bullying and improve team relationships and trust.

Stephanie Morgan

Stephanie Morgan FLPI, Director of Learning Solutions, Bray Leino Learning

Sharing ideas and observations to help improve performance.

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