Workplace bullyingWe tend to associate “bullying” with our schooldays, however, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this kind of abuse can extend to the workplace. There, without the degree of supervision and scrutiny provided by teachers and parents, and formally articulated rules of behavior inherent to schools, bullying can not only flourish unchecked but can also be seriously damaging to the victims’ physical and mental health and safety.  

What Does Workplace Bullying Look Like?

All bullying is essentially an abuse of power, whether physical (“he’s bigger than me”) or institutional (“he’s senior to me”). In the latter case, it most frequently manifests itself in the use of demeaning language or comments, ranging from personal insults (“that’s a very revealing dress”) to highly personalized and derogatory criticism of completed work assignments (“my six-year-old could write a better report than this”) but can also include physical abuse such as inappropriate touching or assignment of physically demanding or potentially hazardous tasks. While others in the workplace may notice this behavior, all too often it is excused as “workplace banter” and can even be interpreted as such by the victim who may blame his/her inadequacies for the treatment rather than identifying it as abuse. If you find yourself in this position it’s essential to self-check. Do you feel anxious before going to work (or during

)? Do you feel reluctant (or afraid) to interact with a specific person, or have a sense of dread when thinking about interacting with them? If the answer is “yes”, then it is important to begin to analyze what kind of working relationship dynamic is occurring. 

Workplace bullying

The Effects of Workplace Bullying

In addition to causing anxiety or panic, bullying can cause physical and psychological problems. These may include high blood pressure, mood swings, panic attacks, ulcers, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances. Workplace bullying can also cause difficulty concentrating, loss of self-esteem, lower productivity, and difficulties in communicating, all of which will seriously impair work performance and your well-being. 

How to Overcome Workplace Bullying

If you are experiencing a hostile working environment, and/or direct abuse from a colleague or superior, the principal goal is to remove yourself from the threat. This removes the power this individual has over your mood and mental wellbeing. One of the main methods to help achieve this is by setting boundaries. How you approach this will vary depending on your situation, but creating and maintaining boundaries is one of the most effective ways to reduce bullying and achieve healthier relationships. If you feel uncomfortable with a colleague or superior then minimize the time you spend in his/her presence. Communicate in writing as much as possible using email or direct messaging. Minimizing any physical/in-person interactions will minimize bullying behaviors. In addition,  documenting all communication will be very important in the event you decide to make any formal representations to management.

When setting boundaries, it is important to be explicit about the behavior you find unacceptable and your refusal to tolerate it. If this does not have the desired effect, then you should communicate your concerns further up the management chain.  This may seem daunting. But it is important to recognize your own value and your right to feel safe in your working environment. If higher management and/or Human Resources fail to respond effectively to ensure a safe working environment, you should seriously consider looking for another job. A job change is a significant stressor but is much less stressful and damaging than remaining in a work environment that threatens your mental and physical health.

Understanding Your Self-Worth

Addressing work concerns and job transitions can feel overwhelming, but having a clear understanding of your self-worth can be the key to overcoming the emotional obstacles that impede your efforts to achieve a healthy and safe work environment. Are you finding it difficult to establish greater self-esteem and self-value? It is recommended to seek social and/or professional support. Through family, friends, or mental health clinicians, you can receive the support, skills, and tools to help improve a greater sense of self and improved self-esteem. It is important that you be prepared to reach out for support to help achieve your goals.

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