In this section I will try to give you some advice on what to do when getting bullied at the workplace. These are all based on my own experiences however your circumstances might be different. At the end of the day, you are the one who knows the situation, your bully (or bullies) and your own personality the most, but hopefully the below few advice will give you clarity and will encourage you to take the necessary steps.
Seek for the signs whether others are bullied as well
If you think others might get bullied as well, either within your team or in a different department, try and start a chat with them about the topic. Some people might feel too intimidated to talk about their issues at first but sharing similar experiences and thus knowing that you are not alone might give both you and them a lot of confidence. Other colleagues might get bullied by other people at the company, but if it turns out that there are more people than just you suffering from the same person’s bullying actions then a joint complaint might be more efficient than if you would need to take this route on your own.
Identify your bully/bullies
Once you realise you might be getting bullied, you would need to be clear on whom is actually bullying you. At first it might seem to be obvious however you might get surprised when it turns out that someone else is also involved in the background. Often the person who is bullying you is manipulated by someone else who is more sophisticated than being involved in face-to-face confrontations. And no, you are not getting paranoid just because some people seem to be a bit suspicious all of a sudden, you are only carefully considering all the possibilities.
This is probably the most important step. There will be days when you will question yourself and will be full of doubts. This is normal. Just because you are taking notes it does not automatically mean that you would need to use them – or all of them – later on. However should you need to rely on your notes further down the line, you will be grateful that you started taking notes already at the early days. You are going to do yourself a favour as memories could easily fade away, but once you have the events written down they will help you to remember of what happened exactly a few weeks/months back.
It is important that you take notes with dates if possible and also write down how the particular action/event made you feel at that time. When you write these things down some of them might seem to be ridiculous, however if it made you feel belittled, embarrassed, ashamed at any point without good reason than that should be considered as bullying. It is also a proof of the bullying pattern, which will probably be more important to prove than the actual events themselves.
Another reason why it is important to take notes is because of your own peace of mind. As long as the events, feelings, emotions and thoughts keep stirring in your mind constantly, you won’t be able to relax but once it is all written down, you don’t have to worry about it any more. You will not forget any important detail later as it is all recorded now, so you might as well actually forget about it and move on with your life. Despite the fact that I spend most of my time in front of computers, I still found the good old pen and notepad combo more effective here. It might have something to do with the ritual of handwriting. Anyway, writing everything down will be a big relief, trust me on this one!
Just as well as your notes, any other evidence will have a significance, too. Make sure you save or print out any emails, meeting memos, written communication or take screenshots of anything which you think might be important later on. If the bullying happens verbally, take a note of all the possible witnesses (but don’t get too surprised if they would not want to be involved in the investigation at all), or try to record the conversation somehow.
This is something which is not easy at all especially if you have low self esteem, or a shy, introverted personality by default. However in certain cases being confident enough might put an end to the bullying straight away if you are able to show to the world that you are not an easy target, or that this is where you draw the line. If you need to learn how to be more assertive I’d advise you better find a coach or even a course first and practice as there is a fine line between being assertive or aggressive and you definitely don’t want to come across as if you were the one bullying others.
Speak to your doctor
Make sure you are aware of your rights and the obligations of your employer towards the health and well-being of all of their employees. If the bullying situation is taking it’s toll on your health, do NOT hesitate to go and speak to your doctor about it. If your GP sees serious signs of being ill or unwell because of the situation at your workplace, they will advise you to take some time off of work on sick leave. Even if you decide to not to stay home, they might still give you practical advice on how to deal with the bullying, might prescribe you antidepressants or other medicines if needed or might refer you to a therapist.
If you decide to take take some time off make sure your doctor mentions on your sick note not only the work related stress but also bullying as the cause. Otherwise your employer might get rid of you easily stating that you are not fulfilling the requirements for the role if the job causes work related stress for you. However if it is clearly written down that the cause of the stress is not the job itself but the bullying, and the stress is not a result of the workload, etc, then it would highlight the company’s responsibility instead.
It is worth to opt in for a specialist therapy, as they might be able to equip you with simple but powerful techniques on how to deal with the stress caused by your situation at work. There are several types of therapies, all different, and your doctor should be able to suggest the one which would be the most suitable to your needs. If this is the first time that you visit a therapist, make sure it is stated somewhere in your medical records, along with the background information on bullying and stress at work, so that it is clear that your need for a therapy is a result of the bullying.
Speak to the higher management
If despite all the above the situation does not change or gets worse, don’t be afraid to get the management involved. If the bully is one of your peers, and you cannot sort out the situation between yourselves, speak to your/their line manager first. If the bully is your line manager, you will need to go one level up, and speak to their boss. It might require some courage depending on the company culture, but if you are honest and ask for their help, you might find that sometimes a simple conversation could help to put things in different perspective.
However you should also be prepared as some managers take it the wrong way, thinking that if you criticise your direct boss that is as if you would be criticising the higher management, too. If you think it might be the case at your employer, then it is probably best to take someone else in with you who might also be bullied, or at least a few of your evidences.
Speak to HR
Before you decide to go down the official route (if you approach HR, they will turn your “friendly chat” into an official procedure in no time, no matter what your intentions are) make sure you obtain a copy of the company’s grievance policy first and read it through thoroughly. One thing you will always need to keep in mind is that the HR department is there to represent the company, not the employee. They are in charge to ensure everything is happening by the letter of the laws and legislations, so don’t expect much sympathy from them. You will possibly need a union representative as HR will not take your side, they will only lead you through the official procedure. (and probably keep an eye on you in the progress and watch out for any mistakes you make, which are not in line with their grievance policy, to turn the case into a disciplinary action against you if they can).
Write your formal complaint/grievance
When you contact HR they will ask you to send them an official grievance by either filling out a form they supply (normally an appendix to the company’s policy) or a complaint letter written by you. It might make sense at this stage to type in all your handwritten notes in a structured way – or at least the ones which you still feel relevant, however remember that other events might as well help to emphasize the bullying pattern, no matter how trivial they seem – and attach it to your letter or form. This would give HR a chance to identify the people involved and see if there is any immediate action required (for instance in case of harassment). Your notes would also help HR to get prepared with initial questions before your first hearing which would save time for both them and yourself.
Find the right representative
If possible get somebody to represent you on your hearings. You would not go to court without a lawyer either, would you? Depending on your employer’s policy the representative might be either from a union which you are part of, or a colleague. (In some instances the representative might be a family member, too, however this might not always be the case.)
The main difference is that while the union representative is allowed to speak, for example answer questions on your behalf, the colleague isn’t. They are simply there to ensure the policy is followed and there is no negative discrimination against you purely because of your grievance. Just the presence of somebody next to you might boost your confidence, knowing that you are not on your own will help to discuss the unpleasant details. But if possible join a union before you hand in your grievance if you are not already a member of one. It is quite likely that this would not be the first time for a union rep to act for someone in a similar case whilst for a colleague the entire situation and process might and probably will come out of the blue.
In any case, always remember the confidentiality rules, do not mention any details to anyone (including your chosen colleague before the first official hearing), and only discuss the topic with them after the meeting if you can ensure to have a private chat where nobody would be able to hear what has been said.
Prepare for the worst
Getting bullied especially for an extended period is stressful. It brings up a lot of negative feelings, destroys self esteem and confidence, and will put second thoughts and doubts in your head eventually. This will probably cause a lot of anxiety, to which your body will respond with the ancient ‘flight or fight’ response. At one stage you will need to decide if it is worth fighting at all or not? In other words, do you have long term career plans at your company or you only need a job to pay the bills? You need to think about and consider all your options carefully.
In most of the cases, if you decide to pick up the fight, you would still not get the result you were hoping for, but by the end of the process you will be emotionally, mentally and possibly physically wrecked, too. It is quite likely that the upper management and/or your HR department will see you as the trouble maker instead of the bully/bullies, especially if you blow the whistle with regards to some major misconduct. Thus they will try to find any opportunity to turn the grievance into a disciplinary procedure against you and get rid of you as an easy solution.
Start searching for jobs
It is worth to start looking for jobs whilst you go through the procedure, or even better, before you actually do your official complaint. Chances are, later on you will be too stressed, anxious, hurt both emotionally and mentally that it would have a negative impact on the efficiency of your job search and the outcome of your possible job interviews. When you start looking for jobs, either in the same field or in a brand new career area, you will realise that “when a door closes another one opens”. If not another hundred…
You will become more confident again seeing that you might have endless opportunities outside of your current company, and you can also leverage this confidence throughout your grievance procedure.
On the other hand if you will need to quit your job, you might have one or more possible positions already lined up waiting for you therefore loosing your current employment wont come as such a shock, neither emotionally nor financially.
Write/update your CV
Make sure that you regularly update your CV not only for the sake of your job search but also to gather your assets, knowledge and experiences in a structured way and reinforce the message that you are a valuable employee – mainly to yourself. Knowing what you are worth will boost your confidence which you will probably need more than ever at this stage.
Stay in control
When I decided to take my case further and go down the official route I had another motivation as well apart from trying to get justice and also to ensure that my future successor would not need to face the same bullying later. I wanted to use it as a case study, too, keeping this website in mind. I am pretty sure I would not be a reliable source of information for many of my readers if I gave up before the end. Therefore I did the maths and decided I stay in till the end to see what happens. But this was entirely my decision. I had to realise before I handed in my grievance form to HR that I had already lost my job. Even if they make a decision to discipline the bullies instead of me, the company, the team and the job will never be the same. However if they decide to take the easy way and get rid of me instead, that still would not be their decision but mine, as I was already prepared for this mentally and emotionally and just played along to get my final experiences.
I hope you find these advices useful, feel free to leave a comment below if I missed anything! 🙂