37% of Us Are Bullied at Work

14 Sep , 2015  

I can remember sitting on the lou at 11pm one Saturday night, holding my cell phone with one hand and covering the mouthpiece with a towel to muffle the sounds, nervously listening to an aggressive boss insistent on a life or death answer about something inconsequential, berating me for not being more innovative in the moment. I laugh at this picture now, but I sure didn’t at the time. It was a nightmare, like something right out of an old Seinfeld episode.

Sandy Hershcovis, PHD from my alma mater, Queen’s University in conjunction with Dr. Barling at the University of Manitoba review the results of 110 workplace aggression studies that were conducted over a period of 21 years. Not surprisingly, the studies found that victims of bullying ultimately left their jobs and had a significantly poorer sense of well-being.

Workplace aggression is insidious. Victims often have to fend for themselves. Their co-workers can turn a blind-eye in an effort to avoid similar treatment. In contrast to sexual harassment which involves direct behaviours, such as gender-related jokes, unwanted touching or unwanted requests for dates” and can be directly, legally dealt with, “non-violent forms of aggression aren’t usually illegal,” but they can be equally damaging.[1]

Bullying can be more subtle, with the bully employing passive aggressive behaviour; work might be called “inefficient,” ideas can be named as “stupid” in front of others then executed with accolades going to the bully boss. Other forms of bullying hide in smaller actions: forgetting to give the victim critical information, providing unsolicited advice, exclusion from key meetings, constant criticism leaving the victim feeling as if their work just never measures up to expectations.


(Even if You feel you need the job and the money)

1.       Call the behaviour and take control. E.g. in the situation above, I should have said “Look, if you want my full attention, you are going to have to give me 15 min (or a time that will suit you); my focus is elsewhere. This stand is polite, but should gain you some respect.

2.       Understand your boss’s personality style and try to manage life with that in mind. For example, if your boss is a Visionary and has called you with a great idea (think Steve Jobs) then say “I like your vision, let me think about how we can bring that to life. I will need some time to work it through.”

3.       Keep a diary of events. If your boss is being out of line in emails or texts, take note – you may need this evidence one day.

4.       Your job is NOT to stand in front of the cliff when your boss is trying to throw you over or take you with them. Side-step, get some help from HR or your bosses superior.  Again, you need to keep their personality style in mind. A Traditionalist would relate to the fact that your boss’s behaviour is affecting your efficiency and ability to get things done, therefore negatively impacting the bottom line. Make sure that you come to the Traditionalist with facts and a plan of action.

5.       Stay professional when things get personal! Use the phrase “So noted.” If you are being criticised. Do not get into a long discussion; the situation will only escalate.

6.       Use your physical – look your boss right in the eye, stand up straight, wear bright colours. These things will make you appear confident. Bullies have a harder time with confident people.

7.       Finally, KEEP your sense of humour. This behaviour is disarming, again shows confidence and restores your strength.

Ultimately, YOU are what matters. Being continually bullied will eventually undermine your confidence. If the aggressive behaviour continues – get out. You are smart, you got this job, you’ll get another. Before you take your next opportunity check into the atmosphere – make sure it is an environment that will allow you to breath.



[1] The High Cost of Workplace Bullying, Queen’s Industrual Relations Centre. Published: March 2008.


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