If you have ever had to endure a workplace bully it is no small thing. When we’re children most of us learn you have to stand up and learn to deal with them head-on. But the workplace is different and it is not as simple. However, it is the same in that most bullies or, in this case abusive co-workers, are those with more insecurities and hang-ups than everyone else in the office combined. And oddly, they wield power and influence against others and somehow get away with it. How is it that these kinds of jerks are able to exist in a modern workplace with so many legal protections for employees and rules of conduct?
I see it often and this is a major reason as to why some companies lose good employees, which isn’t often discussed. In my part of the world, I see it at its most prevalent in the retail sector, manufacturing environments and within gov’t / state institutions.
The most disenfranchising and frustrating aspect of these kinds of situations is the responsibility lies not with the workplace bullies but rather the blame rests squarely on inept and/or derelict middle and upper management that does nothing about it. Such inaction translates into support of poor behavior. I make no secret of my rather low opinion of many less than impressive company managers I encounter; most are mediocre at best and woefully lacking in communication and people skills, almost devoid of leadership skills and qualities. The issue of bullies in the workplace should be relatively easy to remedy – yet too often nothing is done, allowing the circumstance to fester with corrosive effect on the company itself. But what can you do if you find yourself working with or for just such an offending personality?
Keep detailed journals of events, noting actions taken, or not taken, by management. Get a digital voice recorder, there are lots of them that are affordable, small and even wearable as pens or in other configurations; even Smart Phones can record. You can ask for other witnesses to back up your claim but this is unreliable as most people and even close friends will shrink from their pledge of support when it’s crunch time. Without real evidence if or when the time comes, you have nothing but your word against theirs and the kind of people I am describing lie convincingly with a straight face. Accumulate your evidence - and don’t tell or reveal what you are doing to co-workers; you’re not doing it for them, but for yourself. If you reach a point at which you need the information, recognize you likely will not be able to continue in your current job; that’s just the way it goes. But at least you have something to protect yourself from being scapegoated by the very person who will twist events to bolster their hold on their position. I don’t believe in frivolous lawsuits but if need be, find an attorney. Especially in the U.S. there are plenty of liability lawyers who might have interest in helping as they are motivated by money, which is sometimes the only way to truly affect change among the selectively unresponsive, deaf and blind.
If you don’t have the stomach to engage in the measures I suggest, then your only other option is to find another job and leave. Increasingly during the last few years I’ve heard really disturbing stories of good employees who, instead of being supported and believed, experience mental breakdowns and/or resort to medications to cope – and this is happening in an age when there are supposed to be protections from this sort of thing. No job, regardless of what it is or what it pays is worthy of that kind of treatment. Your dignity is yours and nobody can take it from you – unless you allow it.