IT Employment

Steps you should take to stop the office bully

This is part three of our series on workplace bullying. Here are the steps you should take if you feel like the target of an office bully.

What can a target do if he or she is being bullied in the workplace? The advice you'll probably hear from your well-meaning family and friends is to push back. But sometimes that's just not viable. The fact is that bullies are weak people who choose their targets by who they feel won't fight back. Some people are just not confrontational.

Also, pushing back can cause the situation to get much worse. The Workplace Bullying Institute offers three suggestions for what to do if you're the target of an office bully:

1. Name it! Legitimize yourself.

Give the abuse a name: bullying, psychological harassment, psychological violence, emotional abuse. This helps you offset the effect of being told that, because your problem is not illegal (yet), you have no problems. It makes you feel legitimate.

2. Seek respite; take time off to bully-proof yourself.

Taking time off lets you get emotionally stable enough to make a clear-headed decision to stay and fight or to leave for your health's sake.

It lets you see how your physical health differs when you're away from work. If you notice a significant difference in your blood pressure when you're away from work, then you know it's a problem.

Use time away from the office to research state and federal legal options (in a quarter of bullying cases, discrimination plays a role). Talk to an attorney.

Gather data about the economic impact the bully has had on the employer. Discover turnover rates. Calculate the costs of replacement (recruitment, demoralization from understaffing, interviewing, lost time while newbie learns job), absenteeism, and lost productivity from interference by bully.

3. Expose the bully.

Make the business case that the bully is "too expensive to keep." Stick to the bottom line. If you drift into tales about the emotional impact of the bully's harassment, you will be discounted and discredited. The trick is to get the employer to stop the bullying for its own self-interests.

Catch up on previous posts about workplace bullying

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

24 comments
A_dangerous_mind
A_dangerous_mind

Some office bullies try physical intimidation to cow a person into submission. A small percentage may even become violent at some point. Most workplaces have some kind of policy on violence, and it's better to look it up and not need it than otherwise. Pretty much, the advice is to call security when physically threatened and keep the names of anyone present as a witness. In this day and age, I think that it's also a good idea for both men and women to learn some kind of physical self defense -- since if someone actually does try to get violent, it's better to know how to defend yourself than to have to wait for security to appear on the scene.

n.smutz
n.smutz

In an educational context, I've heard that it's difficult to get rid of someone that has tenure. I imagine some work places have such extended probationary periods because, once they hire somebody, they're stuck with him. Have any unions tried to implement an anti-jerk rule, revoking the tenure of people who make other workers miserable?

Top.Gun
Top.Gun

What if the bully is the pet of someone higher up, like a VP. She even bullies him. HR has their hands so tied that I think they are afraid to do anything. The problem with this bully is she knows what she is doing and is valuable, even if production is lost from many other employees. In this case I see little that can be done, except leave. After that at least you can tell her off.

sevenof9fl
sevenof9fl

She even had the Boss bullied. Nobody could touch her no matter how asinine her ideas, amount of money she wasted, time she spent goofing off in her office, or intimidating other employees. Either she knew where the office bodies were buried or the CEO was afraid to fire her, which is what should have happpened. I was her "special" target, but I fought back, which got me on the wrong side of the boss. I finally had to leave.

don.gulledge
don.gulledge

I like to say, "He just likes yanking my chain. Put me in my place from time to time." Say that enough, and everyone will know what kind of jerk your dealing with without making a big deal of it.

sarvesh4u
sarvesh4u

According to me you should face the person with the confidance and try to face him. Dont brake comunication with the other guyes in the office disscuss with them and try find out why he or she is doing this with you.If you find hte reason behind his behaviour then you can plan your mind in the same way.

ismith
ismith

I was in that situation a few years back. This manager was high enough in the company to be able to effect quite a few people (somewhere around 50 as I remember) and constantly made threats, nasty comments, and statements that would have been actionable if they could be proven. Conveniently, however, they were made only behind closed doors in the manager's office. Then negative statements that were either highly exagerated or simply unverified rumor started going into people's reviews. As an example, one of the members of my team went to the manager's manager in an emergency when the manager was unavailable. The following Monday this person was summarily transferred to another group. (One of the few favors this manager did anybody.) When a group of us went to HR, an "investigation" was started but by strange coincidence, the person go another job and left the company before it could be completed. When the complainers went to HR for a resolution, we were told that nothing could be done because this person wasn't there for self-defense so the negative reviews would have to stand. Careers were destroyed by this person and the only result was that they found another, higher-level position at another company.

highlander718
highlander718

Like my own time off spent to do research and spend money on attorneys instead of just taking a break from work and relaxing ? Why should I pay with my own time (or with anything else for that matter) because someone else is bullying me ? Option 3 corroborated with HR related actions seems more correct. Witnesses do not hurt either. The important thing is for you not to take a tough manager for a bully.

gls334
gls334

In some ways I agree with Chuck. Certainly bullies for the most part feel inadequate and usually are inadequate. And the temptation is certainly there for the other actions suggested. But unfortunately there is a problem with going to HR. One study indicates that in more than 50 percent of bullying cases HR does nothing, and in more than 30 percent of cases HR helps the bully. (Per the Workplace Trauma and Bullying Institute.) The other thing related to the good info in the fine column is that the actions suggested in it can only happen if the target realizes that they are being bullied. In a large number (possibly the majority) of bullying cases the bully is not the loud tyrant type, but rather tries to go undetected and sabotage the target repeatedly at every turn. Pulling people from distribution lists and calendars so they miss meetings, plaigerising the targets work and taking credit for the good stuff but blaming the target if the work is questioned, making huge assignments with tight deadlines then scrapping the assignment at the last minute are a just a few examples. Dr. Heinz Leymann was amongst the first to study this behavior and its impact in Europe and wrote: "Done by peers, subordinates and/or superiors, the goal is to force someone out using gossip, ostracism, intimidation, discreditation, humiliation, and just plain meanness." "The blame is projected on the victim, who, 'gas lighted,' becomes confused, has trouble perceiving correctly (that people could really do this), and accepts that he or she is incompetent, to blame, etc." If you suspect or find you're being bullied, do heed the advice in the column, especially documenting occurances corroborated with witnesses. It's too bad that the main focus isn't on the human impact. It does impact the bottom line and that approach will get the business leaders' attention first. GLS

chuck.wilkins
chuck.wilkins

What? Are you kidding me? If you have a legitamate problem documnet it and goto Hr. They have a legal obligation to stop 'violence in the workplace' If you work for a small company find out where the jerk parks. Get a pair of wire cutters and snip off the valve stem on a tire. Sometimes a little one on one in the parking deck will solve the problem. Most bullies back down in a heartbeat when confronted one on one. Soon you will have him shinning your shows and opening doors for you.

sarahevans33
sarahevans33

My sister worked for a company in Arizona called 95 and sunny and shared with me that the owners are the biggest setback of this company and are the cause of office gossip and horrible lack of respect for almost all of the employees except one which they also make clear to the other employees that she is their favorite. They give this one employee fancy vacations and pay raises that others don't receive. This warehouse employee runs around the office when the owner is gone and indicates to everyone that their job is on the line and that she herself made the recommendation to the owner that she should get rid of the other office employees and hire her daughter run the office single handed while she does the order pulling and shipping. This behavior was reported to the owner and she thought it was humorous and indicated that everyone is expendable. This is just one small example of some of the things I have heard coming from this business. This kind of behavior is extremely unprofessional and keeps employees from functioning at 100%. This should not be tolerated at any level. The moral in this company is very low due to the lack of respect for the employees which causes stress and a sense of hopelessness for all that work in this environment. The bad treatment of employees has also created a much higher than normal turn over rate and the loss of some very talented folks who were very sincere about the success of the company. In a couple of instances the owners would not tell and employee they were let go, they just kept telling them they didn't have any work for them at that time. There are also continuous snide and hurtful remarks made to employees on a daily basis by the owners and the owner?s pet employee. From a job security standpoint it is a very poor company to work for to say the least. The owners put no value at all in their employees and have a process that will demoralize the most competent worker to a point of depression. No matter how good of a job an employee does or how hard they work it is never good enough and this is the case with all employees that work for this company. Because this is a small company there really isn't much opportunity for advancement or growth. In all fairness however this company really does have some nice potential if the right folks with some people skills and business training could run it on a professional level without the childish antics.

JustinF
JustinF

If your company has a formalised review system then put down your complaints on the review form; it is usually a 2 way street & HR HAVE to get a copy of both the reviewers and the reviewees forms. You can also request to have a witness present.

bdskp
bdskp

The last bully I ran into was the CEO of my former company..talk about what to do. The board of directors knew he was a jerk and bully as well. They didn't care though..they didn't have to put up with it and he was making them money! What can you do? Go to HR and tell them your CEO is a dirt ball and then what? They start an investigation or make note of your complaint? And the CEO finds out it's you who complained. Right..you might want to line up another job before you run to HR. I'm normally not one to walk or run away from a problem but it was just easier for me to find another job close to home that pays more than to have to put up with that stuff. I have a family to take care of. I'll let my pride go for the sake of my family. If I didn't have a choice then yeah, I guess I would have to stay and fight and hope it all come out ok. All this being said, I'd like to remind anyone in this position, which I was in at one time, that there just might be a reason for this situation you are in. For me it ended up with a job that is in almost all aspects better than my previous job. We are all accountable in the end. Keep this in mind when you set out for revenge by deflating someone's tires, etc. That bully will get what's coming to him..but you shouldn't be the one to do it.

sevenof9fl
sevenof9fl

That's the most intelligent analysis I've ever read on the topic, and the most accurate. This is a topic that HR should give more attention, given the amount of workplace violence that this no doubt precipitates. I've been "gaslighted," I think everyone has at some point; and until you figure out what's going on, it's like being in a Twilight Zone Episode. By the time you figure it out, it's generally too late to do anything about it.

macghee
macghee

I hate to say it, but if you really want to stop it, first realize that you will have to leave. Make it clear to the employer that you are leaving because of your being mistreated and their lack of professionalism in allowing it. And by employer, I don't mean the boss who was the bully or allowed it to occur, or the HR department who really doesn't care. Express it in a letter to the president or CEO, sent as, or after you have left, certified mail. But get out. Fast.

Ben
Ben

Hi Toni, Thanks for bringing the subject up. Step one is to ?Wise Up.? Label them as bullies. It not only gives you legitimacy, it rallies your energy. You?ll know what you?re up against and you?ll feel like you?re protecting and defending yourself as best you can. Then you can decide the best tactics for you in that situation. Sometimes you can win even against fairly relentless bullies, and sometimes not. Step two is to ?Stand Up.? While pushing back may cause problems, not pushing back (passivity) guarantees problems. Bullies don?t take your lack of resistance as kindness or your taking the moral high ground. Bullies take it as an invitation to go after you harder. Stay professional and look to catch the bullies with a ?smoking gun.? Shine a light on the bullying. Get a good lawyer and strategist. Get allies. Try to isolate the bully. If the bully is your manager, go up one or two steps with as much evidence as you can get on the loss of teamwork and productivity, and the cost of increased turnover and sick leave. That way you?re testing the company. Is it a place you want to work at? Disclosure: I consult and coach on bullying and the high cost of low attitudes in the workplace. Check out my books, CDs and web site: http://www.BulliesBeGone.com. Best wishes, Ben

Ben
Ben

Hi Toni, Thanks for bringing the subject up. Step one is to ?Wise Up.? Label them as bullies. It not only gives you legitimacy, it rallies your energy. You?ll know what you?re up against and you?ll feel like you?re protecting and defending yourself as best you can. Then you can decide the best tactics for you in that situation. Sometimes you can win even against fairly relentless bullies, and sometimes not. Step two is to ?Stand Up.? While pushing back may cause problems, not pushing back (passivity) guarantees problems. Bullies don?t take your lack of resistance as kindness or your taking the moral high ground. Bullies take it as an invitation to go after you harder. Stay professional and look to catch the bullies with a ?smoking gun.? Shine a light on the bullying. Get a good lawyer and strategist. Get allies. Try to isolate the bully. If the bully is your manager, go up one or two steps with as much evidence as you can get on the loss of teamwork and productivity, and the cost of increased turnover and sick leave. That way you?re testing the company. Is it a place you want to work at? Disclosure: I consult and coach on bullying and the high cost of low attitudes in the workplace. Check out my books, CDs and web site: http://www.BulliesBeGone.com. Best wishes, Ben

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Everything is a disability these days. HR can't just boot the bum, they have to offer him ways to resolve his 'issues' first.

iM2501
iM2501

check your workplace violence policy first.. you might have to drag the SOB off company property before you kick his a$$

richard.stroud
richard.stroud

You should confront the bully. If he/she doesn't back down, mention that a discussion in the parking lot after work is an option. No matter what the outcome you should never be the bully or start confrontations...But you should always Finish Them!..ALWAYS. Never be the but end of a bully. End it ASAP and on your own. It is the only way to gain the respect - and maybe, even befreind the bully.

tarabeatty
tarabeatty

It's embarassing but the whole thing had me so freaked out i had nightmares repeatedly, and was jumping at my own shadow. I'm rarely afraid of much, and been through some pretty hideous abuse in my life, but when someone takes your sense of reality away, that's just about the scariest thing... it goes from being really weird and confusing, to eventually downright terrifying, yet the perpetrator looks and sounds like an angel, a wax rosebud indeed, she posed as my friend to gain my trust, until the campaign begah, and others were enlisted others over time... the real face comes out only for me.

alund
alund

The poster who said "prepare to leave" is right on target. Prior to fighting your case, begin your job search or put a line out to the job market. Chances are the fight will mean you have to leave. Having dealt with workplace bullies in my career they usually have some degree of success at sabotaging credibility. They are remarkable survivors and sometimes tough to weed out, due to the lying and deceit. When you go to HR in all liklihood the company sees you as the problem for bringing it up. Best thing to do is prepare to leave, make your move to out the offender, and depending on the outcome you can leave if necessary. Bottom line is if a bully has specifically targeted you, this will likely mean you have to leave that company, or made an internal transfer to a division/work group that is isolated and protected from that bully.

tarabeatty
tarabeatty

I kept notes from day 1, just because that's what I do... but when the insanity started. I thought it was project stress, so I kept writing "project issue notes". Then my entire world turned upside-down (after 2+ years on an intense and troubled project) but doing some of the best work in my life! When it was over, I thought the stress would pass ... no, instead the abusive supervisor took advantage of the chance to shove me incrementally into isolation, gatekeeping info and resources I'd need to do my job; credibility destroyed, stripped of responsibilities I actually excelled at, and eventually: labeled "trouble"... eventually the reprimands started, and pretty sure the goal was termination, destruction of me/my career, or both. I'd never been an employee in "trouble", always and still did high quality work! So this was not a situation I was accustomed to. Accused of flat out lies, things that nobody would have believed a few years ago... things I woulld never even dream of doing! But now people believe it. ..Quality of work... well in IT people often can't "see" the full picture of what work entials, so it's easy for an abusive manager to take advantage of that ambiguous understanding others have of the amount of time and effort complex technical functions entail. I kept writing the "issue notes" and kept records of my work to cover my back; eventually had a narrative of the tear down and devastation in full detail, events very clearly depicted ( in retrospect clearly workplace bullying, and later a full mobbing thought I'd never heard of that at the time). I will tell the story - I want people to hear the truth. For the executive short version, I'll have a brief summary with a timeline depicting the whole thing in a nutshell. If I drop dead before I get to tell it, my husband will make sure it gets told -- he has copies, and he also works there.

tarabeatty
tarabeatty

I'm speaking from experience too and i agree completely. I planned to fully dig my heels in the ground, because I loved my job and was good at it, and I enjoyed plenty of high regards for years... And a wonderful working relationship with my supervisor (or so I thought) until she became threatened, and blindsided me for almost 2 years; never heard of this before but by the time i figured it out, it practically destroyed me. Now i have another job offer, and it's a great opportunity, but I'm not what I was 2 years ago after going through this. I hope people believe it because if/when it happens to you, no matter how good you are and how RIGHT you are, it seems the only way is to get out. After a few years, the amount of damage is devastating. And nobody understands until they've been there... because it just seems so unbelievable

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