Adults spend at least half of their waking lives at work, and it’s nearly impossible to avoid taking what happens at work home with you. Workplace bullying can cause depression, anxiety, lowered job performance, and even problems in your marriage.
So what can you do if your work life is a nightmare? There are ways to deal with a bullying boss that will decrease your chances of continuing to be a target.
Avoid Being a Target
Some bosses will bully you no matter who you are, but there are a few things you can do to decrease your chances of being bullied. Like the unpopular kid in elementary school, the lone worker is a prime target.
Focus on befriending coworkers and establishing a support group. It will be much more difficult for your boss to bully you if you’re in a group of people rather than walking around the office alone.
You should also remember that bullies bully people who “reward” them for their behavior. A bully’s greatest reward is feeling like he has dominated or is better than someone else.
Most bullies are insecure and fairly inept in their own lives, so they seek to feel better about themselves by harming others. If you react to the bullying with tears, by stammering, or by showing signs of weakness, it’s likely to increase.
A better strategy is to ignore the bullying, to assert yourself when necessary, and to refocus your boss’s attention on the job. If you can make your boss sound a little stupid — without being overtly hostile — you may also deter bullying.
For example, you can say, “It’s great that you spend so much time thinking about how I do my make-up. I don’t know about you, but I have a job to do here, so let’s refocus on those reports.”
If the bullying continues, document every instance of bullying. If you are fired, request a transfer, or file a lawsuit, you will need documentation. Note the date, time, and nature of the altercation and file any supporting evidence — such as e-mails or memos — along with the notes.
Some forms of bullying, particularly sexual harassment or bullying that is race-based, can land your company in hot water. Human resources (HR) departments are increasingly aware of workplace bullying, and your HR director may be sensitive to the problem. Talk to HR, and take any documentation you have.
Develop Coping Skills
The economy is bad, looking for a new job is stressful, and sometimes you just have to grit your teeth with a less-than-ideal working environment. Work on developing coping skills such as deep breathing and meditation at work.
Take brisk walks around the office a few times a day; exercise decreases cortisol and can help you cope with stress. And, if things become truly unbearable, consider seeking help from a qualified mental health professional, who may be able to give you tips on how to deal with the office bully.
What Not to Do
You will almost always lose if you confront the office bully directly. When he feels that his authority is questioned, a bullying boss may wage full scale warfare and may even fire you.
You should also avoid slacking off at work because of the bullying, as this provides fuel to the bully’s fire and could even act as a justification for firing you. Perhaps most importantly, avoid showing any signs that you are affected by the bully.
If you need to cry, vent, or express feelings about the bullying, save it for the bathroom or when you get home. Bullies prey on people they consider weak, and emotion is all too often considered a sign of weakness.
Namie, G., Namie, R. (2009). The bully at work: What you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.
Kohut, M. R. (2008). The complete guide to understanding, controlling, and stopping bullies & bullying at work: A guide for managers, supervisors, and employees. Ocala, FL: Atlantic Pub. Group.
Edited by Jody Smith