Do Bullies Exist in Business?

That’s a “yes”.

There are countless news articles about the effects of bullying in schools and via social media (at it’s worst: suicide). Often, some adults and officials underestimate the impact of bullying, and unbelievably, even participate. What is wrong with society?

I began to wonder if these bullies ever grow up, or if they just move into the workplace. That question was answered as soon as I started to search the subject – and I didn’t have to look hard.

There is a long discussion string in the Connect: Professional Women’s Network Linkedin group about bosses who throw their direct reports “under the bus”…one friend published a 3-part article on Betrayal in the Workplace…as well as countless articles on the subject in a Google search. There’s even a Workplace Bullying Institute! (There are no “bullying” tags for LinkedIn Pulse articles, however, so there’s that…).

Recognizing Bullies at Work

What does a bully look like in the workplace? Here’s the definition.

  • a co-worker who intentionally sabotages your work product
  • a co-worker or boss who verbally berates you in public or in meetings (this goes beyond simple disagreement; this includes name-calling and derision)
  • anyone who intentionally humiliates you, intimidates or threatens you in any way

Bullies thrive on the reaction they get from those they torment. Know that their actions come from deep-seated insecurities and perhaps even psychological problems, so try not to engage.

What to do?

If the bully is a co-worker, the first step is to talk with your immediate boss. If that is not possible, or the bully IS your boss, contact the Human Resources department if your company has one (over 72% of bullies are bosses!). Larger companies should have policies and procedures in place – many have zero tolerance policies and a bullying or harrassment claim is no joke. Smaller firms may not have policies in place, but that doesn’t mean that you have no recourse. The owner of a small firm should also take such a claim very seriously. Experts recommend:

  • Remain calm; don’t escalate the bullying by yelling back, etc.
  • If possible, remove yourself from the situation (walk out of the room, hang up the phone, etc.)
  • Calmly let the bully know how their actions are affecting your work; set the boundaries as to the behavior that you will & will not accept
  • Document each instance, including exact words used, names, dates & locations (get notes from witnesses, if possible)
  • If you are being bullied, it’s likely that you’re not alone. If you see others being bullied, you may want to approach management together.
  • If all else fails, consult an attorney.

Hopefully your issue can be resolved without resorting to changing companies (ideally, the bully is invited to change companies!). If none of your efforts are successful, consider that the upheaval of changing jobs may be far less damaging than the stress of being constantly bullied or harassed at work. Do not suffer in silence; understand your rights and the resources available to you, then take action.

In the meantime, the rest of us can practice effective communication skills by speaking to each other civilly and treating everyone with respect, even when we disagree.