Workplace bullying - What you can do about it

The bullies are being rewarded at work (and what you can do about it)

Written by Peter Harris
Posted on July 10, 2013

Have you ever worked in a place where it seemed like the jerks always seemed to rise to the top? Well, you’re not imagining it. According to a new study from the University of Buffalo School of Management workplace bullies are often rewarded and promoted above their more civilized coworkers.

The researchers define the bullying behaviour as “systematic aggression and violence targeted towards one or more individuals by one individual or by a group.” In other words, singling out and picking on specific people in a deliberately intimidating manner. And people exhibiting this behaviour are likely to receive high evaluations from their bosses and reach greater levels of career success.

So why is such unpleasant behaviour being rewarded? The study also found that workplace bullies are savvy enough to charm their superiors and manipulate upper management into supporting them, at the same time as they act abusively to their coworkers.

The report says that bullies are “able to strategically abuse co-workers and yet be evaluated positively by their supervisor.” Sneaky.

Few victims of workplace bullying ever report the incidents out of fear of retaliation or of creating the impression with management that they themselves are not team players and can’t get along. It is this silence in the face of aggression that allows bullies to get away with their anti-social behaviour and even to thrive.

How to deal with workplace bullying:

    Talk to the bully. The first step is simply trying to work it out one-to-one. Different communication styles, cultural differences and misunderstandings can lead to tension at work. The bully might not even know that their behaviour seems hostile to you.

    Talk to someone else. If you can’t work it out with the aggressor, talk to your manager or your Human Resources department. You need your concerns to be recorded. If there is a history of bullying, your complaint will add pressure on the organization to take action.

    Document everything. Make careful notes of every incident of bullying, what was said, who was present and what the outcome was. This will help establish that this wasn’t one occasion of someone blowing off steam on a bad day, but an actual pattern of aggressive behaviour.

    Be excellent at your job. Being bullied can be disheartening. It can kill your energy and motivation. That’s when your work (and even your health) can suffer. If you let this happen, the bully is diminishing who you are. Stay true to yourself. Remember that you are a professional. Do your work and do it well. When it comes time to make a choice, you need your company to remember how good you are and how much they value having you as a productive member of the team.

    Never lose your cool. No matter how hurt or angry the bullying behaviour makes you, don’t retaliate. The minute you surrender the high ground, you lose. If you act aggressive in return, your case against the bully disappears, and the situation becomes two people who simply don’t get along. Avoid being alone with the bully so there are always witnesses to their behaviour. Respectfully walk away whenever they get heated or aggressive.

    Take your skills elsewhere. If you have documented workplace bullying and your company refuses to act against the perpetrator, it might be time to change employers. You shouldn’t have to leave your job because of someone else’s bad behaviour, but if your organization chooses to ignore (or reward) it, you have to ask yourself about the company culture. It might not be one that you want to spend your time and talent supporting.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers numerous resources for dealing with bullying in the workplace.

See also:

  • Prank at work leads to convictions, firings
  • What you can learn from the jerks at work
  • You’re right, pessimists, you really aren’t likely to succeed
  • No Revenge of the Nerds: Popular kids do better throughout their careers too
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