Workplace bullying has become a strategic tool to push employees to leave companies voluntarily. Isolation, intimidation and threats are just a few tactics bullies use to strip someone of their power and identity. The reasons could be as simple as feeling threatened by someone’s success, personality or being insecure with themselves as a whole.

The behaviours, tactics and language bullies use can turn what appeared to be a welcoming and friendly environment into a culture of fear. Research shows workplace bullying not only impacts one’s happiness but injures their health, productivity and self-confidence leaving victims feeling stuck and powerless.

When it comes from a manager or team as a whole, the options of who to confide in become limited. In turn, victims internalize the comments, behaviours and isolation leaving them battling a mix of emotions from feeling embarrassed and alone to intimidated and depressed.

Workplace bullying exists across various businesses and industries today, yet it’s one of the most unspoken topics. Citation, an HR and Health and Safety support company, recently surveyed 100individuals to understand the top reasons why 55% of employees leave their job within 12 months of starting. The survey results were shocking. 69% of employees admitted to leaving their job within the first year due to bad management and 62% left due to hostile working environments.

The unfortunate reality is bullies are strategic and conscious about making their moves in private with little to no paper trail.

The Workplace Bullying Institute released a report in 2017 with some alarming statistics:

61% of bullies are bosses who operate alone

61% of employees are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace

19% have experienced it and another 19% have witnessed it

29% of victims remain silent

65% of bullied employees lose their jobs

80% of women bully other women

What’s more haunting is studies have shown that women who work for women experience a greater frequency of bullying, abuse and job sabotage. In a world where women are supposed to band together in unity, they’re instead using their power and authority to keep others beneath them.

Here are the four tactics to handle bullying in the workplace and the ways to dismantle the culture of fear before it becomes toxic.

Address the Situation Head-On

The thought of addressing a workplace bully head-on can be overwhelming and terrifying, especially if it’s a person more senior. Almost all companies have standard processes in place to handle bullying when it occurs between two employees, but the real challenge comes when the manager is the bully or worse, it’s coming from HR itself.

Examples of bullying in a workplace setting could involve being shut out of team meetings, colleagues threatening to replace you, a manager making jokes about one’s lifestyle or background, making offensive comments directly or indirectly or providing inaccurate information and withholding correct information that impacts the ability to perform their job.

While it’s tempting to seek revenge or stoop to their level, the best first step is addressing the situation on the spot. Sometimes this is exactly what the bully needs to realize they’ve overstepped boundaries. This can include addressing the jokes and comments—“If there’s an issue, let’s find time to discuss this in private. Your comments are inappropriate and I will not tolerate them”—or leaving the room or ending the call. As uncomfortable as it may be, practicing courage will show the bully you’re not as easy as a target as they initially thought.

Confide in A Confidant

Finding someone to confide in at work can be challenging if there aren’t any co-workers that can be 100% trusted. If there’s nobody at work that can be trusted, seeking out a confidant is the best next alternative. Victims of bullying are reluctant to speak out about what they’re going through. They’re often overcome with a sense of guilt believing they brought it upon themselves.

Studies show people who are bullied experience stress, damaged self-esteem, impaired physical and emotional health and weakened cognitive functioning. Having someone to confide in can help victims see they’re not the problem and they’re not alone. Feeling helpless and disempowered at a place where one-third of your life is spent can lead to depression and in some severe cases, suicide.

Document Every Detail, Big and Small

What allows workplace bullying to get out of control and go undisciplined is the lack of evidence associated with it. Taking a proactive approach and documenting all incidents with the date and time will help expose patterns of behaviour and create a timeline of events. If there were any witnesses, make sure to include them in the document as well. According to the law, employees much show they were specifically targeted.

Stick to Facts and Report Higher

The key is remaining calm and presenting facts without allowing the emotions, particularly anger, take over. If having a meeting and confronting the manager or individual has occurred and nothing has improved, the next step is to report it to a senior ranking person above them. Often times their boss is unaware of the situation and can offer solutions to prevent it from continuing such as relocating or changing jobs within the company.

If the abuse continues or gets worse and HR fails to act, there are employment laws to protect you. This is why proper and detailed documentation is crucial. It shows this is not just a one-time incident, but a series of occurrences that have hindered an employee’s safety, health and performance.

The damage of bullying is long lasting and no employee should have to put up with hostile working conditions. Some victims are left so damaged they are unable to reintegrate back into the workforce for fear it’ll happen again.

If you’re a witness to workplace bullying speak up and report it. Victims are often too embarrassed to speak up for themselves or don’t know who to turn to for help. It’s our duty as humans to make sure we’re being treated as such, in and outside of the workplace.

For further advice & support contact EAP Assist.