Bullying is a common problem but that doesn’t make it a) any better or b) OK. We spoke to the experts, and some people who’ve been victims of bullying, for tips on how to tell when it’s more than workplace banter, and what you can do to stop it.  

As it’s anti-bullying week, we’re very much of the opinion that more needs to be said and more help needs to be given to victims of bullying so they don’t feel like they’re on their own. Jeredyne Mingo, the founder of Stand Up Against Bullying (a project funded by O2 Think Big) and a victim of bullying herself, agrees: “I wish when I’d been bullied that I’d thought to go online – maybe I could have got some advice and not felt so alone. It’s important that people don’t feel like they’re on their own, and that they get as much information on how to cope as possible.” 

So, we spoke to Michael Guttridge, a business and coaching psychologist at SGandA, as well as Sara who experienced bullying (and fought through it), for some top tips. 

“Are you just having a bad day, or is this happening regularly? Are you dreading going into work? These are all indicators that it’s more than just a bit of a joke,” Michael says. “Of course, some workplaces always have a bit of a ritual with the new starters – making them get the tea and do all the rubbish jobs, that sort of thing – but if it continues, and feels over the top, then it’s bullying.” 

It’s important to try and make sense of your feelings, and another way to make sure that this a problem as opposed to a spot of oversensitivity (we’ve all been there – I once cried because a PR pointed out I’d misspelt her name in an article. I was tired OK?!), is to have a chat with friends and family. Or, better yet, someone you work with. 

Sara was bullied at her part-time job a few years back, and found venting to her friend incredibly helpful: “I had a lovely colleague I could talk to and we were constantly encouraging each other… we sometimes met for a coffee and talked about our situation. Or, more precisely, swore at the management.”

Having someone understand means that, yes, there’s something wrong and you need to take action. Or, if you’re just feeling stressed and oversensitive, you’ve got someone on your team to chat about it with as opposed to letting it overwhelm you and feeling as if you’re being bullied. 

Don’t immediately assume you’re being petty, though. As Michael says: “Bullying usually consists of little things. Everyone going to lunch without you. Someone repeatedly making a cup of tea for everyone but you. These little things add up and being excluded can feel really awful.” 

If it’s in the early stages, get involved in conversations

Apparently, it’s often the conscientious workers who are most at risk of getting bullied. Which is totally unfair. “The quiet ones who want to get on with their jobs are the ones most likely to be a victim of bullying, so it’s good to be assertive from the outset. You don’t have to get involved in the joking and bantering, but contribute to the watercooler conversations,” advises Michael.

So, if everyone’s talking about last night’s X Factor and you didn’t watch it – ask questions. Is this series the worst so far? Are the auditions not as funny, or even funnier? “Do the tea round, smile and ask how someone’s weekend was. It can dissolve any tension that’s been building, especially in some working environments where being sociable is incredibly important.” 

Be assertive

This can be difficult and, if you’re being bullied by a group of people, then can actually make it worse – but if it’s one person taking a joke a bit far, then speak up. “Saying ‘alright mate that’s enough now’ or ‘hey c’mon that’s a bit harsh’ lets the bully know that you’re not about to sit there and take it,” says Michael. “If it’s a group, that can be impossible so you’ll need to take it up a notch.” 

Speak to your team leader 

Having a quiet word with your team leader could ease the situation; they’re there to ensure the team are all working well together and it’s in their interest to help you out. Of course, if your team leader is part of the problem (as it was in Sara’s case) you have to go a little higher: In our shop, the problem was structural: the pressure came from regional managers who bullied our local managers who subsequently bullied us. There was no way to change it unless we could change the whole company culture..”

Take it to HR 

If your team leader isn’t helpful, the company will have some form of policy that covers bullying. “It may be called a dignity at work policy, or something similar, but have a chat with someone in HR about it all – informally,” advises Michael. 

If the bullying is getting out of hand, or is particularly abusive, then make a complaint. After all, it’s not just about your individual case, but changing the workplace for the better: “You must fight for your rights and report the bully to a Health and Safety inspector, HR member or to the police if necessary; all the bullied colleagues must hold together and take a collective action.”

Be aware that, once a complaint is lodged, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to go back to the same team and find the issue resolved (but think about it… would you really want to?) >”Most people who lodge a complaint, even if it’s justified, find that – while the bullying may stop – if it’s the same team, the atmosphere changes. They will feel angry, threatened and may just exclude you even further.”

Ask yourself – is this job worth it? 

Whether you decide to lodge an official complaint or not, sometimes it’s best to just leave the job. “See if there’s another team within the company you can transfer to, or another department where you’ll feel happier,” says Michael. Sara agrees, after fighting a long battle at her own place of work: “Look out for new opportunities because working every day in a minefield is extremely exhausting and you don’t grow professionally. It may sound like cowardly advice but sometimes changing your job can make your whole life change for the better.” 

After all, it’s not your fault you’re being bullied so why not move to a team or company that appreciates who you are and what you can offer? As Sara puts it: “Remember that there is nothing wrong with you. You are a good worker and you are not guilty of anything. No one deserves to be bullied.”

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