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Stephanie Morgan Is it me, or am I being bullied in the workplace?

I must confess that I do not normally listen to The Archers (a Radio 4 soap opera), however there has been a recent storyline that is particularly harrowing, where one of the characters, Helen, is being mentally abused by her partner, Rob. Fans of The Archers have been in uproar, but one special fan, Paul Trueman, who I am proud to say is a colleague, has taken action!

Now you might wonder how he could take action when this is about a fictional character. Well, as a positive way to vent his anger and concern, he has been raising money for Refuge, a charity supporting women and children suffering from domestic abuse.  Such has been the outpouring of empathy for Helen, and all other women like her, that at the time of writing this, he has raised over £60,000. If you want to help too, you can do so here.

One of the distressing aspects of the storyline is that Helen is not completely clear about what is happening to her. The listeners are crystal clear, but Helen can only see things from her perspective and Rob is extremely good at making sure she only ever sees the perspective he wants her to see.Is it me or am I being bullied in the workplace?

One particular comment on the JustGiving page summed this up for me. It was from an anonymous donor who said “It’s like listening to the women I once was (thank God for my own Kirsty at work who asked why I need a receipt for my sandwich…) I used to think DV was only about bruises. How wrong I was.”

At the same time that Paul has been raising awareness of how trapped Helen is, I have been coaching someone who has been receiving similar treatment at work.

You may think that if you are being bullied in the workplace it is easier to recognise it, seek help, or deal with the situation, but unfortunately that is not the case as, quite often, similar power dynamics apply.

Like the anonymous donor, we tend to have a stereotype of the typical workplace bully. They will be intimidating, it will be obvious, they might shout at us or exclude us, and some bullies certainly do some of those things some of the time. However, quite often things are innocuous to start, almost imperceptible, not quite tangible, but they leave a feeling in your gut that things are not quite as they might seem.

So what does constitute workplace bullying? As with all things, there are some clear actions and behaviours that are definitely bullying. Shouting at someone at work is not acceptable, excluding someone from decisions or information on purpose to put them at a disadvantage is perverse. However, there is a huge grey area that can be perceived in two ways.

For example, you might be questioned about a piece of work quite reasonably, fairly and appropriately, but because of your lack of confidence, or perhaps because of previous experience you 'feel' attacked. Is that bullying? I would not say so, however, the very same situation might be bullying if the person asking the questions is being sarcastic and intimidating, or asking in front of others to belittle you.

The first thing you need to do if you suspect you are being bullied is to try and analyse the situation to establish what exactly is happening, and you really do not have to do that alone. I will repeat that - you REALLY do not have to do that alone. In many organisations there will be impartial, confidential support available that I would urge you to seek advice from. Colleagues, family and friends who know you can help you identify exactly what is happening and what you might want to do about it, or alternatively there is ACAS, who have a confidential helpline.

The main reason I am keen for you to seek support is that many, many people report that, at first, they feel like they might be going 'mad'. It is therefore good to have an unbiased opinion, to help you see the situation objectively.

It is also too easy to overlook the fact that your employer has a duty of care for you, and your mental health should be as important to them as your physical wellbeing. It is not enough these days to just make sure there are no trip hazards!

If you are in any doubt over whether you are experiencing workplace bullying, ask yourself, is it you?

  • In terms of communication skills there is a big difference to normal workplace behaviour and bullying - check how the message is being conveyed – are you being sensitive or are they being overbearing?

  • Bullying can be very subtle; it can be a number of small things that constantly undermine you. Start to take note and analyse the incidents properly before deciding.

  • Has someone else pointed something out to you that has made you question yourself and the situation? If they have, go back and talk to them.

  • Is this happening to anyone else, in the same way? If not, does that mean you are being singled out? If this is happening to others, how are they reacting?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can decide for yourself if you need to take further action, and I would always recommend that you do. The trouble with a bully is they very rarely bully one person, just the once.

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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