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Workplace Bullies: How to Handle Them & Move Forward

Unfortunately, the schoolyard bully sometimes grows up and sits at the workspace next to you as an adult. Sad but true — not everyone grows out of their mean kid phase and learns to get along with everyone as an adult like we were told as children.

If you’re being bullied at work, or if there’s a colleague who seems to seek out ways to make your workday miserable, here are some steps to consider taking, without retaliating and getting yourself into more trouble than the person’s worth.

Take notes.

If some of this bullying is happening electronically, in email, text messages or the communication program you use at work, keep records of it. Keep a folder or separate document with a list, including dates and times, to establish a pattern or records of this behavior. When you take a next step, it’ll be good to have evidence to back up your claims of poor treatment and the written word is beneficial to have on your side. If the negativity is verbal only, take notes of what’s being said, when, how often and who is nearby to hear it.

Talk to HR or your manager.

If you get to the point where you’re feeling threatened, unsafe or having a hard time doing your job, let someone know. Poor treatment is not to be tolerated or accepted and people in positions of authority should be informed about how one of their direct reports is acting and treating people. If you’re worried about retaliation from the person you’re calling out, let them know that as well. Some bullies get angrier and double down if they know you’re making complaints about them.

Do your best to focus on work and ignore them.

If this sounds like what your parents said about the schoolyard bully, you’re not wrong. Ignoring someone who wants your attention and to be in your head takes their power away. It will make them more annoyed before they give up, but it’s worth trying. It might take some practice and some effort, especially if you have to work closely with them, but do your best to limit your exposure to them and the time you spend in their presence.

Attempt to talk to them.

This is entirely scenario-specific, but if you feel comfortable or if it’s just getting to the point where you don’t know what to do, or if you hit a limit and can’t take it anymore, ask the bully, flat-out, what’s going on. Ask whether you’ve done something to anger or frustrate them, because you’d like to fix it if possible. Ask whether you’ve done something to hurt their feelings or be a less-than-stellar coworker because you want to apologize for your unintended slight. Conversation and communication might be the best way to fix a problem — maybe it’s all a misunderstanding? If you want to take this route, it might be worth considering having this conversation with your manager or supervisor present, so it’s on the record and there’s a mediator present.

Go to HR and ask them to deal with it.

If things are so bad that you cannot take it anymore, escalate the situation and file a report with your HR department. Provide the evidence and notes you’ve been collecting and file a complaint, laying out how long the bullying has been happening, what it entails, who is responsible and what steps have been taken to rectify the situation. There comes a point where you shouldn’t have to deal with this on your own and management needs to get involved; don’t be afraid to use the resources and tools available to you.


Work bully wrecking your day? It’s time for a change — Sterling Personnel can help.

An estimated 79 million people — more than half the number of working adults — have reported being bullied at work. This negatively affects your mental and physical health and increases the stress you feel at work and at home. You don’t have to put up with it!

If nothing helps and the abuse continues, it’s time to move on. Sterling Personnel can help! Take a look at the jobs we’re working to fill and give us a call with one that strikes your interest. We’re also happy to help you look and share your resume with our clients! There’s a better future ahead for you; call Sterling Personnel and let’s get you there.