When you think about workplace safety, you probably imagine construction zones and hard hats. But when we think about it at BullyingEpidemic.com, we have a broader picture in mind – keeping the workplace free of bullies. Sadly, that’s a big job made worse by this tough economy.
According to a 2010 survey of more than 4,000 workers by the US-based Workplace Bullying Institute more than a third of all workers report being bullied at work. Another 15% are witnesses to bullying. That’s too many people at risk and too many people standing by.
There are many costs to workplace bullying: Absenteeism, reduced productivity, costs of hiring and retraining employees, heavy use of employee assistance programs and costs to the families of targets who pay for bullying in so many ways. Bullying creates an atmosphere of fear which damages employee morale and the quality of the work. And that’s just the top of the list.
Sure, you can count to 10 when you’re dealing with difficult people. But we want you to count to 15: That’s how many tips we have for you to stop the bullying in your workplace The more we allow bullying to persist – in any setting – the more insidious it gets. Eventually, you get caught up in it. Just don’t go there!
Here are some tips for prevention.
1. Stop It Early. This is THE crucial point, simple as it seems. It’s much easier to stop bullying early, before it becomes the new normal. Doing nothing is the same as saying “yes”, allowing bullying fertile ground to grow. You may not notice the creep until it’s too late. Then it’s very hard to pull everyone back to a kinder, gentler time. Just don’t go there!
2. Don’t Bully Others. Walk away from gossip, behind the back criticism of co-workers, even celebrity gossip. It’s easier to keep a Bully-Free Zone than to continually patrol the line between “OK” and “Too much”. Choose to be kind, especially when someone makes a mistake or needs support.
3. Harness The Power Of The Group. Identify like-minded people in your area or department, willing to commit to a bully-free workplace. Share this tip sheet as a starting point for the spirit of kindness and collegiality you want to maintain in your office. Build from there.
4. Pre-Hiring Heads Up On Hostility. Look for hints of bullying before you take the job. Ask each interviewer how long they’ve worked there. In your own words, ask “How would you describe the personality of the workplace?” Listen carefully for nuances, not just facts. If you hear something like “Oh, Bob’s a real character,” ask for details, casually and with a smile. “Oh, yeah. How so?”
Perhaps you’ve done everything you can to stop bullying, and the bully just won’t stop. Here’s how to protect yourself and others in a hostile environment.
5. Set Your Boundaries. For example, when someone starts speaking rudely or emotionally unloading on you (raised voice, tirade, swearing, etc), stand up, interrupt and say, “I want to hear what you have to say, but I’m not going to listen to you yell at me.” Walk away. Find another desk to work at until the bully leaves. If it happens often, keep a bag or briefcase with some work in it under your desk or within easy reach to grab and go quickly.
6. Stand Up For One Another. If you see or hear one of your colleagues being bullied, 2 or 3 colleagues must walk right over and rescue the target (and rescue the bully from him or herself). “Hey guys, time to cool off”. Then to the target, “You come with us” (physically walk the target out of the bully’s range), and to the bully, “Need a breather? Want to go for a quick walk/glass of water/cup of coffee?” Help the bully recover, too. Use your judgment about what to offer. Don’t offer to go for a walk around the block if the bully’s going to unload on you!
7. Keep Records Of Bullying Or Abusive Incidents. Save any email, notes, voicemail, text messages, photos, videos (date stamped, if possible), or documents with threats or excessive criticism. Keep a journal with dates and your description of events. Note the names of any co-workers within earshot, especially colleagues from Your Group (see Tip #3) who will stand up for you and make a statement if needed. Keep your smartphone handy for voice and video records.
8. Bring Your Complaint To HR. Before you go to HR, talk to someone else in your company who has used HR to intervene (successfully or unsuccessfully) on their behalf. What was the process? Time to resolution? Just remember, once you go to HR, it’s now an official complaint, and the risk is that, if they can’t or won’t help you, making a formal complaint can make it worse for you.
9. Hire A Lawyer. Find a workplace or workplace harassment specialist.
10. Leave. This is not the right answer, but it is the expedient, self-protective, damage-limiting answer in today’s reality. If you’ve not been able to solve the problem yourself, or with the help of colleagues or HR, you’re really out of options. Plan your exit. Protect yourself. Consult a lawyer. It’d be great to have a new job lined up, but saving your physical and emotional health is top priority.
Until you solve the problem, here’s some advice on being your best under pressure. Take care of yourself during these challenging times.
11. Manage Your Stress. Taking care of yourself is crucial. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, and take your vitamins, even though you may not feel motivated. Until this is finished, you are in a stress marathon. Prepare your body and mind like an athlete. Nobody’s perfect, but do your best. Run the stairs at lunch to blow off steam and build your endurance.
12. Limit The Damage. Even though one part of your life isn’t working well, do your best to keep the bad feelings from “bleeding over” into other relationships and poisoning your whole life. Don’t make your partner, kids, and friends suffer too. These people are your lifeline during tough times – let them prop up your sense of humor and resilience, instead of you dragging them down. Promise yourself that outside of work, you won’t complain about work and you will bring a smile and a positive attitude into these relationships and this time. Laughter produces serotonin and endorphins, happy brain chemicals that will help you survive the parts of life that aren’t so funny.
Speaking of collateral damage, prolonged workplace bullying is a terrible example for kids, teaching them to accept bullying as normal in the adult workplace. Solve the problem quickly.
13. Practice Gratitude. End each day making a list of 3-5 things you’re grateful for in your life. Seems strange to practice being grateful while in the midst of a situation you’re definitely not grateful for, but this will protect your mental health. Making gratitude lists has a bigger and longer lasting effect on elevating your mood than taking anti-depressants. Do this with your kids, too.
14. Meditate (Or Learn To). Meditation is the only way to permanently improve your brain’s ability to handle stress. Using neural plasticity, meditation pushes your brain to build more complex neural networks, helping you manage a more complex life with less strain. Meditation helps your brain grow with all of life’s challenges, even if you don’t have workplace bullying. Do it at bedtime, so it adds no extra time to your busy day. Meditate nightly for 30 days (think muscle memory), then 3 times a week. Don’t wait till you’re in a stress crisis to start. Start now.
15. Share Your Knowledge. Share your best tips, strategies, and stories of how you reduced bullying in your workplace with us at BullyingEpidemic.com. We’ll share them on our blog. Help others and pay it forward!