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Updated 26 March 2013

Bullied at work?

It is three in the morning and you are tossing and turning. Work scenarios – nightmarish ones – are being played out in your head and the office bully features in every single one.

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It is three in the morning and you are tossing and turning. Work scenarios – nightmarish ones – are being played out in your head and the office bully features in every single one.

You dream of what you'd like to say, how nice it would be to resign and the things you would like to do to this bully who is making your life miserable.

But let's be realistic for a moment: You don't want to risk losing your job in this economic climate, and you enjoy what you do - pity about the bully who spoils things for everyone.

And, being in a constant state of stress can have huge implications for your health: it can lead to heart problems, blood pressure problems, insomnia, and a host of other stress-related conditions.

So what can you do?

Accept that the bully has personality problems. Anyone who finds it necessary to wield their little bit of power in a way that humiliates those working under him/her, has problems of a deeper nature. It is their small position of power that gives them free reign to unleash their social inadequacies on those unfortunates working under them. Chances are their home life is miserable, and they have no friends to speak of and they spend their lives watching TV, because they cannot communicate with equals.

Look after yourself. When in this situation you really need to look after yourself. Don't give in to the tempation of eating heaps of junk food and slouching around the house endlessly, because you're feeling depressed. Get some exercise. This will not only be good for you, but also help you to work off some anger. Eat healthy food and don't seek your solace in alcohol. If you're really feeling stressed, and it's not going away, go for some therapy, or go and see your GP. The bully is making your working life unpleasant, but it isn't necessary to let him/her ruin your health as well.

Don't take it personally. If you get shouted at for no reason, this is not about you, it's about the bully. This person is unable to gain respect from co-workers by means of their work or the way they behave, so they resort to strong arm tactics to intimidate those under them.

Don't defend yourself. If you are accused of something ridiculous, the bully is doing this to get a reaction from you. If you won't defend yourself, the accusation will be seen as ridiculous by other co-workers. Say something non-committal like, "If that's what you want to believe, go ahead".

Ask for written instructions. In this manner, the bully has to get his/her ducks in a row before tasks are given. Follow the written instructions to the letter, then there can be no comebacks later – if there are, you whip out the written instructions. A favourite tactic of bullies is to give vague and confusing instructions, so that they can come down like a ton of bricks on some unfortunate who didn't do what they thought they had in mind. Written instructions also limit how far the goal posts can be moved.

Don't let yourself be intimidated. Despite what the bully says, there is a limit to what they can do to an employee. If you are unfairly dismissed, you can easily go to the Labour Court. Bullies are like sharks – they go for the ones who are bleeding. If you allow yourself to be intimidated, they will hone in on you and make your life hell – simply because they can and you allow them to do it. Bullies also have an unnatural fear of authority themselves and will tend to crumble and become obsequious when faced with a higher authority than themselves.

Bullying is a two-way-street. There can be no bully if someone is not prepared to be bullied. If you remain polite and calm, but will not allow yourself to play when it's supposed to be your turn, the bully will be completely lost. If you're not playing anymore, no bullying can take place and the bully is most likely to move on to the next target.

Keep notes of the bully's behaviour. If you ever plan on taking this matter further, vague accusations will not hold water in a disciplinary hearing. If you can produce dates and times and exact descriptions of what happened as well as witnesses of these events, your story will be all the more credible.

Remain polite, but distant. Never reveal any personal details to the bully and never talk about your private life. Just don't give this person a gap at all – he/she will find some way to use this against you. Don't socialise with the bully at all – there is nothing worse than having a boss who is a friend one day and a fiend the next.

Learn to say no. A favourite tactic of bullies is to expect the increasingly impossible. Once they have identified a willing victim, their expectations become more and more unrealistic – they want to see how far they can push before you have to say you cannot do something in the time allocated. Because you somehow feel inadequate because of not meeting an impossible deadline, the bully will turn you into your own accuser and slowly start eroding your sense of self-esteem. If something is impossible, say so – don't even attempt it. The bully is enjoying watching you jumping through hoops.

Know the bully's tactics. Most bullies thrive on humiliating and intimidating others. These two behaviours are often accompanied by subtle threats – often completely without any basis in truth. If push were ever to come to shove and there had to be a disciplinary hearing, the bully will come off second best if the truth is revealed.

Get allies. Talk about the bully's abusive behaviour to other co-workers. If they are also suffering, there will be a sense of solidarity among you, and together you may come up with a strategy. Bullies like to follow the divide-and-rule style of management and feel threatened by any alliances on their staff. Meet this head-on.

Find another job. If the bully is the one with the final say and there is no-one above him/her to whom you can appeal, it might be a good idea to look out for something else. If it is the bully's business, remember that a high staff turnover is very damaging to any undertaking. If you're leaving because of the boss, you won't be the first and you certainly won't be the last. Insist on an exit interview and be clear about why you left.

Don't take the bully home with you. Spending all your free time agonising about this person robs you of time and energy outside the workplace that rightfully belong to you. Don't give the bully the satisfaction of haunting your private life. This can lead to stress and depression and a host of other ills. Leave work problems at work and find a way to switch off from this person's menacing behaviour after hours. – (Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated January 2013)

Read more:
Toxic boss?
Dealing with sexual harrassment
Are you a problem employee?

 
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