office bullies

5 Tips on How to Deal with an Office Bully

Oct 6th 2015
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From Tom Buchanan inThe Great Gatsbyto Regina George inMean Girls, there's a reason bullies figure so iconically in our imaginations – at some point in our lives, most of us have either been pushed around by someone or done the pushing ourselves.

But as much as we may hope to leave our bullying experiences on the playground, a new survey from staffing firm OfficeTeam, a division of Robert Half, confirms that bullying follows us well into adulthood, with more than one in three American office workers saying they've experienced bullying at work.

The survey, which polled more than 300 office workers this past May, found that 35 percent admitted they've dealt with an office bully. In addition, 27 percent of the 300 human resources (HR) managers surveyed said they think workplace bullying happens “somewhat or very often” at their company, while 35 percent said “not very often” and 38 percent said “never.”

Equally interesting is how employees choose to respond to office bullies. According to the survey, 32 percent confronted the person, 27 percent told their manager, and 17 percent did nothing.

The statistics would seem to suggest that while there has been a growing awareness of office bullying, and a growing public condemnation of bullying in general, this behavior is still alive and well in the American workplace.

“Workplace bullying often flies under the radar because employees tolerate or fail to report it,” said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. “Managers and staff alike should be supported in addressing bullying issues. This includes not giving anyone a pass for negative behavior, no matter how valued that person may be.”

Workplace Bullying Defined
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), workplace bullying is defined as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; work interference – sabotage – that prevents work from getting done; or verbal abuse.

For those asking “why me?” the WBI offers this interesting theory: “Unlike schoolyard bullying, you were not targeted because you were a ‘loner' without friends to stand up to the bullying gang. Nor are you a weakling,” the WBI states on its website. “Most likely, you were targeted (for reasons the instigator may or may not have known) because you posed a ‘threat' to him or her. The perception of threat is entirely in his or her mind, but it is what he or she feels and believes.”

To some, teasing and bullying may seem similar, Hosking acknowledges, but “based on WBI's definition, what sets bullying apart is that the actions are repeated.” Those actions, he said, can include everything from malicious rumors or gossip, constantly berating or criticizing a particular employee, or deliberately undermining or sabotaging someone's work.

OfficeTeam offers the following five tips to help employees who are victims of workplace bullying:  

1. Take a stand. Avoid being an easy target. Bullies often back off if you show confidence and stick up for yourself.

2. Talk it out. Have a one-on-one discussion with the bully, providing examples of behaviors that made you feel uncomfortable. It's possible the person is unaware of how his or her actions are negatively affecting others.

3. Keep your cool. As tempting as it is to go tit-for-tat, don't stoop to the bully's level. Stay calm and professional.

4. Document poor conduct. Maintain a record of instances of workplace bullying, detailing what was said or done by the individual.

5. Seek support. If the issue is serious or you aren't able to resolve it on your own, alert your manager or HR department for assistance.

What to Include in an Anti-Bullying Policy
Hosking said OfficeTeam hasn't conducted formal research on how many accounting firms have adopted anti-bullying policies, so it's difficult to say where the accounting profession stands on proactive prevention of office bullying.

Anecdotally, he said, company attention on workplace bullying appears to be increasing, spurred in part by anti-bullying campaigns, such as National Bullying Prevention Month, Blue Shirt Day, and Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.

“But not all accounting firms have adopted proactive policies against bullying, and many may still be responding on a case-by-case basis,” Hosking said.

However, he does believe it is beneficial for firms to have some type of formal anti-bullying policy in place so they can quickly address situations as they come up.

“If workers aren't aware of what to do in bullying situations and leaders don't know how to handle them, bullying can easily impact morale, productivity, and retention,” Hosking said.

According to Hosking, a proactive anti-bullying policy should:

  • Make sure the firm takes a firm stance against bullying and make it clear to all that bullying will not be tolerated.
  • Define what constitutes bullying and describe the steps that will be taken when bullying occurs.
  • Give managers and workers alike the tools to identify and address bullies.

Hosking advises firm leaders who would like to start an anti-bullying policy at their own firm to consult the variety of resources offered by the WBI and refer to their HR and legal departments when setting up guidelines for handling workplace bullying.

The WBI will hold its Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week from Oct. 18 to 24.


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