Workplace bullying can be a real problem and can have incredibly destructive effects on your mental health.
What is Workplace Bullying?
When people think of bullying, they often think of outwardly aggressive behaviour like verbal and physical abuse. While those things fit the definition of workplace bullying, workplace bullying as a whole also includes much more insidious behaviour. Mental health professionals recognise workers being marginalised, ignored and excluded in the workplace as bullying. The victim feels undermined and belittled, often publicly, through these actions.
Workplace bullying is often quite subtle. As such, it can be difficult to pinpoint until it’s been ongoing for a significant amount of time. Trying to make sense of the subtleties can lead the victim to start doubting their own perceptions.
What to do if you are the victim of Workplace Bullying
Workplace bullying can be upsetting. The first thing is to accept that it’s OK to be upset by it.
Sometimes individual acts seem quite minor. However, when done repeatedly as part of an ongoing pattern, they build up and make the workplace an unhealthy environment. It’s OK to be upset and it doesn’t make you a weaker person.
Write everything down
If you believe you are the victim of workplace bullying, the first thing to do is to write everything down. Write down dates and times as well as details of events and actions, and, crucially, how they made you feel. As workplace bullying can be subtle and hard to understand, having a solid record of events can help a lot to keep your feelings in reality.
If it’s upsetting you enough to leave, make that decision sooner rather than later
Bullying causes a lot of stress, and stress impacts mental and physical health. Plus, long term exposure to bullying can lead to effects similar to PTSD. If the bullying is upsetting you, then chances are that getting out of there is the best thing you can do for yourself.
However, finding another job when feeling worn down by the stress of one’s current job can feel like a big hurdle. Thus, it’s important to do everything possible to get yourself feeling well and confident enough to handle a job search. Counselling and other talk therapies can help with this, and so can anti-depressants. Not everyone benefits from anti-depressants, but don’t discount them without consideration. They can take the edge of the negative feelings away enough for you to make positive changes to your life.
Should I go to HR?
The answer is absolutely yes, you should. Whether or not it is a good idea, however, is not so easy to answer. It’s possible that HR will be professional and take your complaints seriously. It’s also possible they won’t care, or are not competent and all you’ll have to show for talking to them is the stress of talking to them!
The results of going to HR going to vary widely between different workplaces. If your workplace has policies on bullying and seems to recognise the importance of a psychologically safe workplace, then that’s a positive sign. But not all HR managers have any experience with or training in HR, especially in small companies. If your HR manager appears is not inspiring and people regularly leave because of disputes, then you might want to think twice.
If you do choose to involve HR, make sure to document what you discuss, especially including anything they agree to do.
Whilst going to HR may help you, it’s probably something you should hold off doing until you think you’re close to having an offer elsewhere. As with any employment negotiation, it’s best to initiate it only when you have the ability to walk away.
Let’s say you complained, but you don’t feel you were taken seriously. If you feel strongly (and strong) enough, there is always the possibility of legal action against your employer. People can and do win significant amounts of money after being forced to leave jobs due to bullying. This is best discussed with a lawyer.