Tips on Handling Workplace Bullying

1_banner3Bullying and harassment cases are not often clear cut and sometimes people are unsure whether or not the way they are being treated is acceptable. If you are sure you are being bullied or harassed, there are a number of actions to consider taking as quickly as possible, as follows. 

·         Find out your organisation’s policies and procedures for preventing and handling bullying.

·         Let your union or staff representative know of the problem.

·         Try to talk to colleagues to find out if anyone else is suffering, or if anyone has witnessed what has happened to you – avoid being alone with the bully.

·         If you are reluctant to make a complaint, go to see someone with whom you feel comfortable to discuss the problem. This may be your manager/supervisor, human resource manager, or health and safety representative (if your work has one), your trade union representative, or your Employee Assistance Service. The situation might be able to be resolved informally, without any official complaint being made.

·         Keep a diary of all incidents – records of dates, times, any witnesses, your feelings, etc. Keep copies of anything that is relevant, for instance annual reports, letters, memos, notes of any meetings that relate to your ability to do your job. Bullying and harassment often reveal themselves through patterns of behaviour and frequency of incidents. Keep records and inform your employer of any medical help you seek.

·         Tell the person to stop whatever it is they are doing that is causing you distress, otherwise they may be unaware of the effect of their actions. If you find it difficult to tell the person yourself, you may wish to get someone else – a colleague, or a trade union official – to act on your behalf.

·         If you cannot confront the bully, consider writing a memo to them to make it clear what it is you object to in their behaviour. Keep copies of this and any reply.

·         Be firm, not aggressive; be positive and calm; stick to the facts; describe what happened.

·         If this informal approach does not resolve the issue and in situations where the bullying continues, you may need to consider making a formal (written) complaint. Your employer’s policy on bullying should clearly set out what will happen when a formal complaint is made, how the complaint will be investigated and who will carry out the investigation, taking into account issues of confidentiality and the rights of both parties.

·         Writing the complaint will seem a daunting task, especially if you are afraid of confrontation, or suffering from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Keep the following in mind when drafting your complaint:

  • Keep it factual, do not try to guess the bully’s motives or ascribe intent to any actions (that is up to the investigators);
  • Don’t use insulting language;
  • Don’t generalise or use absolutes (e.g. “he always” or “he never”) because one exception breaks the rule – use rarely or often instead;
  • Include as much as you can about your feelings (e.g. “I felt excluded /rejected” is more effective than “he excluded / rejected me”);
  • Ask someone you trust (a colleague, union rep, solicitor, friend, doctor, therapist) to read your complaint as you are far too involved to read it with calm detachment; to be sure that it is complete and understandable by someone outside the workplace situation; and not too specific about trivialities.

·         Disciplinary procedures may also be used for disciplinary action against someone
who makes an unfounded allegation of bullying or harassment.