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Dr Sophie's Blog
Dr Sophie Henshaw is a work stress strategist, author and doctor of psychology with a particular interest in dysfunctional workplace relationships. For the latest articles, please refer to her latest blog site: www.freespiritedme.com
Workplace Bullying: Catch It Early
Workplace bullying is probably one of the most expensive experiences you will endure. It can cost you your job, mental and physical health, bankrupt you and in worse cases, even lead to suicide.
The good news is that workplace bullying has a timeline and if you intervene early enough, you can plan for the worse and be one-step ahead in creating the best possible outcome.
Yes, you have to brace yourself because it will be a rough ride. You will be terrified at times and the journey ahead requires enormous courage on your part. The challenge is to face reality head-on and deal with it effectively, rather than pretend it’s not happening and wishing it would all go away.
The first experience you encounter is the “triggering event” – this is the first time the bully does something to target you. The event itself seems quite ordinary and often isn’t an obvious catalyst for the escalation that follows.
The tendency is to brush it off as: “he’s just having a bad day”. Everyone has bad days from time to time where they become stressed and snappy.
However, this behaviour repeats. You get reprimanded and insulted, you’re given an unreasonable workload, you miss out on rewards and you get that creepy feeling that the bully is talking about you behind your back - and on it goes…
Now you are dreading going to work. Every time you see the bully, you break out into a cold sweat. You can’t concentrate on your work. You lie awake at night, it takes over your every waking thought, you panic and you feel really low.
Suddenly you get more headaches, backaches, colds and stomach-aches. You become preoccupied and withdrawn at home and your important relationships suffer. You lose your appetite.
Facing up to bullying feels like "the perfect storm"
You doubt yourself and wonder if you have done anything wrong. You thought you were good at your job and a decent person, but are you sure? Perhaps the bully has a point…
You continue to tolerate the intolerable, in part because you can’t believe that people would actually behave like that. I’ve seen this go on anywhere from six months to six years, but research shows an average of two years.
However, at some point it finally dawns on you: what is happening has a name: it’s called “workplace bullying”.
When you realise that’s what it is, you consider doing something about it – like approaching the bully and discussing frankly it like a rational human being.
You might even consider putting in a complaint to the HR department. Your company after all, does have policies and procedures for dealing with that sort of thing.
At the same time, your gut tells you that you have a lot to lose. You fear reprisals from the bully. Also, you could be labelled as a “troublemaker” and end up losing your job.
So what do you do? The trick is to catch it as early as possible and take action before it costs you everything.
As soon as you realise what’s going on, you must stop taking it personally and start thinking strategically.
What that means is that now on, your full-time job is dealing with the bullying. Your survival is at stake here and being bullied could spell the end of your job or even your career.
Very few targets come away unscathed from the process, so you need a clear head to effectively address what’s happening.
You must come to terms with the fact that the bully has an agenda. You won’t know exactly what that is and even if you did, it probably wouldn’t make any sense to you. Accept early on that the bully doesn’t think like you do.
Your mere presence has alerted the bully to some kind of threat, and he or she now has you in their sights. All this happened before the triggering event. Thereafter, the bully will take up a campaign against you.
You must document all evidence as early as possible. Keep a diary and record every instance of bullying behaviour. Keep emails that signal a trail of bullying. Record bullying conversations discreetly on your phone and collect evidence from witnesses.
Then before you make your complaint to HR, evaluate – is this a bully-prone workplace? In another article I give tips on how to recognise these workplaces.
If it is, don’t expect your complaint to lead to a desired outcome. If the process requires you to confront your bully (which could be dangerous) or enter some kind of mediation, your company is labelling it a “personality conflict” and setting you up to take half the responsibility for the bullying.
But go ahead and make the complaint anyway because you are thinking strategically. Line up an experienced lawyer for possible legal action in the future and go to the Fair Work Commission website and download an application for an order to stop the bullying.
Completing this form allows you time to get your story straight and draft a compelling story showing you are being bullied at work. Hone and edit this document, it’s an important piece of evidence, even if you decide not to lodge it straight away.
At this point you really need an ally who can support you to be steady and help you to think things through so that you can create an effective strategy.