Bullying in the Workplace — How to Identify It and Rebuild Your Resilience
Most of us want to increase our confidence in at least one area of our lives, but confidence is a muscle that needs to be exercised all the time.
It is unrealistic to think that our confidence grows naturally at a steady rate over time. Different things can knock our confidence, and we learn to build it back up again by working on our self-belief and resilience.
One of the most significant negative impacts on our confidence can come from experiencing bullying. When someone is bullied in the workplace, it can be detrimental to their future career, even when they no longer work with the bully. But does workplace bullying really happen?
Unfortunately, yes. We have this collective idea that bullying ends when we leave school, but it is not confined to the back of the bus or the playground. Workplace bullying is on the rise and experienced by as much as 29% of the UK workforce.
As a Careers Confidence Coach, many clients have shared the impact of being bullied in the workplace, even when working from home during the pandemic.
Experiencing bullying has a shattering effect on confidence. It makes you doubt yourself and your abilities and making it even harder to go through the interview stages for future jobs.
Bullying can be subtle, and when we first join a new role, we can be particularly vulnerable to missing the signs of a bullying boss. But when someone says or does something intentionally hurtful, and they keep doing it, even when they have been asked to stop, that is bullying.
Being bullied in the workplace can look like this:
● Being treated differently and being a target for abuse
● Being intimidated
● Having your good ideas stolen
● Being continuously criticised or laughed at
● Being set up for failure and kept out of the loop on important issues
● Having tasks taken away from you, with little or no explanation
If you have concerns that you are being bullied, you should always speak to your HR team. They will refer back to the company’s anti-bullying and harassment policy and put actions into place to help resolve your issue.
You are also protected by law when hurtful actions are aimed at age, sex, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation.
Even if you are well-supported through a bullying situation, you will still need to build up your resilience again. A good framework for bouncing back and strengthening your confidence is TEAR:
T = Take time to accept the reality of what has happened
E = Experience the pain and give yourself compassion
A = Adjust to new choices you are faced with
R = Reinvest in the new reality
Another helpful coping strategy when you have been a victim of bullying can include recognising your strengths and providing yourself with evidence to support all of those strengths.
For example, if one of your strengths is ‘being organised’, write down 3 examples of times when your organisation had a positive effect on a project or task. Continue with all your different strengths and create a bank of evidence to reassure you of your unique abilities.
How to avoid becoming a bully!
Bullying can be a learned behaviour that people take on in the workplace because it’s how they were treated by their peers. The good news is that learned behaviours can be unlearned too.
As we enter the workforce and eventually move towards positions as managers and leaders, we all carry the responsibility to recognise the difference between challenging and striving to get the most out of our teams and bullying.
Challenging your team might look like:
● Setting difficult tasks but with realistic timeframes
● Giving critical feedback where necessary, but always in private
● Being equitable — even when it means being hard on everyone!
● Encouraging challenge and debate
As leaders, we can help our team’s performance by leaning into how our team members feel and try to meet their needs. For example, if someone is feeling confused, their manager should provide them with clarity. If someone is feeling ignored, their manager should give them a chance to speak up. If someone is feeling micromanaged, they should be heard and given more autonomy. If someone is struggling under pressure, their task load must be adjusted to a realistic level.
To understand how someone is feeling, you must have already built up trust and a sense of psychological safety, so they will open up to you. Trust can be built using simple rules of treating people equally and fairly, actively listening, being non-judgemental and taking positive actions on any feedback received.
As new generations of leaders come into managerial and leadership roles and more people access and engage with coaching and mentoring services like those provided by LMF, I am hopeful that the trend of workplace bullying will begin to decline, and we will have more equitable, empowering leaders, who are allies to everyone in the workplace.
Any leadership and careers coach’s end goal is to put ourselves out of business. Ultimately the less unhappy employees and struggling leaders I see, the more successful I will be — even if I have no clients left!
This blog contribution was made by Lucy Shutt-Vine.
Lucy Shutt-Vine is a global learning and development manager and a careers coach working mainly with women who want to achieve their full potential and get more enjoyment from their working lives.
She is also an LMF mentor.
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