Workplace Harassment: Dealing with Bullies on the Job

noworkplaceviolence July 25, 2012 0

By: Leslie Ayres

Laura was a victim of workplace harassment. A mid-level manager for a chain of medical offices for the past ten years, she’s gotten several promotions and great feedback for her work. But last year, she got a new boss, and life changed.

The new boss was very controlling and took a dislike to Laura, and began to nitpick her work. One day, she called Laura into her office and gave her a written warning because one of the people on her team made a mistake, even though Laura had nothing to do with it.

From what she said, it was clear that the manager’s intention was to get Laura to quit, or to set the stage for her to be fired.

Many of us have encountered harassment or a bully on the job at some point in our careers.

The boss who publicly demeans you, the guy in the marketing department who makes cracks about your love life, or the coworker who always blames mistakes on you… any of these could be considered unlawful harassment.

What is workplace harassment?

Harassment is undesirable or unwelcome conduct aimed at another person. It can be verbal, nonverbal, psychological or physical. It could be based on issues of race, color, gender, ethnicity or national origin, age, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.

Essentially, it’s having another employee, your boss or even an outside vendor do or say things that create a hostile environment for you to work in.

Teasing, pranks, threats, ignoring, giving impossible deadlines or cutting you off from the rest of the team could all be considered harassment.

When the conduct has a sexual nature to it, it’s considered sexual harassment, which also includes gender harassment or harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

What kind of behavior is characterized as harassment?

Any behavior that demeans, degrades, abuses or disrespects someone could be considered unlawful harassment.

It could be in the form of jokes, offensive verbal or written comments or offensive cartoons posted in the workspace, inappropriate touches, or explicit verbal abuse.

In Laura’s case, it was in the form of false accusations and heavy-handed pressure. And as in most cases of harassment, there is usually also an imbalance of power, and an element of intention.

What’s the line between joking and harassment?

A lot of people might defend their bullying behavior by saying, “I was only joking, don’t get bent out of shape,” but the problem is that what one person finds acceptable, another person can find offensive or unwanted.

If you have a hard time knowing where to draw the line, ask yourself if you’d behave the same way if your kids or grandkids were watching you. Would you tell that dirty joke in front of them, or let them see you yelling at the bookkeeper and calling her a derogatory name? If not, don’t do it at work.

There are federal and state laws to protect workers from harassment.

Bullying and harassment is more than just bad business… it’s against the law. Laws to protect employees from harassment include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities act, and many state regulations.

What should you do if you are at the receiving end of harassment or bullying at work?

It can be a tough situation if you’re in an environment where you are being harassed, bullied or abused. Being in the right doesn’t necessarily mean things will go your way, and it’s possible for the situation to derail a career.

What should you do if you’re being bullied at work?

1. Be honest about whether it’s harassment or not.

First, really think about whether you are the victim of harassment, or if it’s something else. Be honest with yourself.

Getting called into a meeting with your manager to discuss your performance is management, not harassment. Don’t jump to the conclusion that every negative or uncomfortable interaction is harassment.

2. Stay calm and don’t react.

Bullies and harassers are trying to assert power over you with their aggressive behavior. Stay calm and don’t let them get to you. It’s not really about you, anyway; it’s about them, and their insecurities and need to dominate. So breathe deep and deal with it factually, rather than emotionally.

3. Speak up for yourself.

Until you tell someone their words or actions are offensive or unwelcome, you can’t expect them to know. Don’t worry about offending or angering the harasser by asking them to stop. You have a right to define your boundaries. Just do it with poise and graciousness. Take the high and honest road.

For instance, if your boss insists on telling racist jokes at work, you can say, “Jim, I don’t find racist jokes funny or appropriate, so please stop telling these kinds of jokes in front of me.”

If someone makes unwelcome personal comments or flirtation advances, you can say, “I hope you understand, but I want to stay professional and focus our conversations on work. Please stop with the personal comments.”

You don’t have to be argumentative or accusatory. Your goal is to get them to stop, not to change their belief systems or start a battle. Be polite and speak with a calm and relaxed voice…but say what you need to say.

In most situations, that will be enough, and will probably get an apology, too.

4. Document everything.

A detailed record of what happened, with dates, times, people and other specifics, is important. Write down names of people who saw it happen. You might never need documentation, but if the problem gets worse, you’ll be glad you kept them.

5. If the problem continues, go to your supervisor to report it.

If the problem is with your supervisor, as it was for Laura, then go to someone in human resources or a more senior manager. Share the specifics of what happened, and once you report it, it’s their responsibility to conduct a confidential investigation of the situation.

6. Then find a better situation to work in.

Life’s too short to work around bullies, and there is no career advantage to sticking around in a situation where you are being harassed. Your job performance will suffer, your business reputation will suffer, and you will lose career ground.

It may seem like you should stay and fight, but in truth, you’ll be happier if you can get out of the situation gracefully.

Start working on finding something new, working with people who respect you and support your growth. When you stop being willing to accept people mistreating you, you’ll have more confidence at work.

Laura’s story had a happy ending.

She reported the manager’s unfair treatment to the higher-ups, with her notes about the specifics, and then got her resume together and started applying to new jobs working for better managers.

Then one day a few weeks later, she learned her manager had been disciplined for her bullying ways with her staff and put on leave, and a few days later, she’d been let go.

Laura might even apply for her bully boss’ job, which would be a silver lining to a tough situation.

Source : lifegoesstrong

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