Imagine you’re attending your first meeting at your new job. The senior manager in the room begins by pointing out the failure of a particular department to reach a goal. He looks at the department chief, who appears ready to crawl under the table, and asks how he can face his family when he goes home at night. The insult is followed by a string of belittling expletives punctuated by table-pounding.
During the course of this 45-minute tirade, no one else speaks, looks up or walks out. You realize that nobody is surprised by this senior manager’s behavior.
Not long ago, I wrote about a recent survey that showed bullying in the workplace is still alive and well. What would you do? What can you do? If running back to your old job is not an option, you have some decisions to make. Should you report the bully to human resources, confront him or do nothing?
Your next steps will depend a lot on you, the organization and the situation. Some people do not like confrontation; just the thought makes them nervous. Others love a good fight. The organization itself also plays a role: Does it have any policies that address bullying? Or do executives merely look the other way? If there are policies, how are they put into practice? How are whistle-blowers treated?
Bullying encompasses a lot of behaviors. It could, as in the example above, take the form of someone in authority verbally belittling an employee. It could be sexual harassment, physical attack or a combination of offensive behaviors. There are also bullies who target peers.
Consider all these variables before deciding what to do. Also, examine your own support system. Do you have someone to lean on if the going gets rough? If so, here are some options to consider:
• Review the facts and your response. Try to peel away your emotions and assess the situation objectively. After you do that, does the behavior still fit the definition of bullying?
• Research how bullying is defined and handled in your organization. Does the employee handbook make any mention of it? If so, what does it say? How are bullies supposed to be dealt with? Are any protections mentioned for people reporting bullies?
• Identify someone to talk to about the situation. Make sure you can trust this person’s opinion so you can use him or her as a sounding board. You do not want someone who will agree with everything you say.
• Confront the bully and explain why his or her behavior is unacceptable. If you have no reason to feel threatened, do this in private. If there’s any chance of violence, ask someone to join you to witness anything that may happen.
• Talk to your human resources department. Supply detailed information, including what the bully did and said, and who else witnessed the behavior. After you report the incident, continue to follow up with your HR representative until the matter is closed. You do not want this incident to slip through the cracks.
• Consult your personal attorney to explore your options.
I didn’t list these options in any particular order. If the situation is dire enough, for instance, you might consult with your attorney first – even before approaching human resources. Also, not every option will always apply. Every bullying situation is different and may merit different responses. These options, however, are a starting point for you, a friend or a colleague if confronted with a workplace bully.
Please share your experiences here. Your story could very well help another reader who is dealing with a workplace bully.