Workplace bullying isn’t just about sexual harassment, as most people might assume. Although this is the one type of bullying that has gotten the most media attention by far, there are other, subtler ways in which people get bullied at the office. Even though there are stringent laws against discrimination based on several criteria, most employees are unaware of their rights, and continue to suffer the slights that they receive every day at work. In this piece, we take a look at the main sources of attacks, and ways to deal with them.

Bullying by Bosses

This is probably the least subtle of the many types of bullying found in the office environment. It is likely a throwback to the days of slavery, when “supervisors” were given absolute rights over their wards. Their only mandate was to “get the job done, or else!” Being under this kind of pressure, the “managers” of yore often used physical force to get slaves to accomplish tasks. Even in medieval times, servants were treated no different from slaves. This tradition continues to this day even though labor regulations prohibit overt expressions of status-based superiority or seniority. The behavior of modern day managers and supervisors, sadly, is much the same as Egyptian slave drivers, albeit in a severely tone-down fashion.

The only way to deal with this type of bullying is to stand up for yourself: being pressured to do a job well is not bullying, however. Bullying entails overstepping the boundaries of protocol; it involves emotional abuse, if not physical, as in the case of sexual harassment; it might even arise from ego issues; nevertheless, before you take any sort of action, be absolutely sure that it is, in fact, a case of bullying. You might counsel with a senior member of the human resources department in total confidentiality. Some stressful jobs even make a professional counselor available for this purpose.

Once you’ve established that you are, in fact, being bullied – for whatever reason – you can then take appropriate action. This may involve confronting the offending individual with your concerns; you might need to include a member of the HR department in a discussion between you and your boss; you might even ask for advice from a legal expert before taking any action.

While all these courses of action are certainly open to you, you must act responsibly when laying the blame. Never be vindictive – merely act to protect yourself from further abuse. That being said, it is always a good idea to look for a change in environment when something like this happens. Even if the issue is resolved amicably, there may be uneasy moments when you have to face that same person at work again – especially if it is your immediate boss. However, do not use that as an escape mechanism because you’re not the one who should be ashamed.

Bullying by Peers and Teammates

This type of bullying can often be more subtle. Rather than arising from a sense of being superior, it often arises from the fear of being inferior to you for any number of reasons. A teammate who is in competition with you for a coveted team award, for example, may try to throw you off your game by “ganging up” with others on the team to give you a hard time. They may put you in an embarrassing situation in front of our boss, or they may try to get you to take on a much heavier workload than they’re willing to take on. It might assume a number of forms, but one thing is certain: it attacks your self-esteem and your sense of self-worth. It is not a pleasant situation to be in; neither is it one you should put up with.

This type of bullying can often be harder to deal with than the first kind, because these are the people you work side by side with on a daily basis. They’re not going to let you get away with “snitching” on them. Unfortunately, informing your boss might be the only way out if the matter is serious enough.

On the other hand, it might be easier just to confront the bully and have it out – verbally, not physically. Bullies are often only confident when they have their cronies by their side. If you corner a bully alone, he (or she) will often not be able to meet your gaze, let alone give you straight answers. Direct confrontation in a non-threatening manner is usually the best way to deal with a bully. Simply ask them why they are doing this. Most likely, they’ll first deny it, so have your examples ready. Next, you can tell them that their behavior does not intimidate you, and that you will be forced to take serious action against them if they continue in this manner. You will be surprised at the results you get with this approach. Never forget that bullies are actually cowardly people who use their strength and intelligence to push others around. You’ll never find a lone bully, because they need all those cronies to give them a false sense of confidence.

Legal Recourse

Workplace bullying in any form is severely frowned upon because it affects productivity, and goes against everything that human rights stands for. No matter whether you’re the CEO or the janitor, you are entitled to the same respect and consideration as everyone else. If you feel that your personal space or rights are being violated in any way, don’t hesitate to escalate the issue as far up as you need to.

However, you must first ensure that you have done everything in your power to resist, oppose or stand up to bullying. The key to dealing with the issue often rests with you and how you react to the situation. It tends to get worse when you sit there and take it without doing anything about it. In fact, it will get worse – you can count on that.

The information given here should help you deal appropriately with workforce bullying. But the first step should be yours.

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