How to Deal with Workplace Bullies

How to Deal with Workplace Bullies

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Is there a workplace bully in your midst? Are you unwittingly compromising your integrity at work? A paper titled Workplace Bullying in Malaysia: Incidence, Consequences, and Role of Organisational Support revealed that 14% (of 231 employees sampled) experienced bullying incidents either weekly or daily. (Source)


A survey of 108 employees from clinical and non-clinical backgrounds at Kuala Lumpur Hospital revealed that 42.6 % were exposed to inappropriate behaviour at work. (Source)


And an exploratory study on Workplace Bullying in Malaysia showed that 81.4% of its randomly selected respondents (from different industries) were being bullied by way of someone withholding information. 82.2% experienced bullying in the form of someone spreading gossip. A total of 82.3% were being bullied with unreasonable deadlines. (Source)

Conflicts are one thing, but workplace bullying is entirely its own beast.


Is there really a bully at work?

Before you approach someone else with this accusation, it’s important to ascertain that you are really being bullied. This behaviour classification would not apply if you were reprimanded for poor performance in a professional manner. There is a difference between performance management and bullying which makes it vital for you to be able to confidently make the distinction.

Keep in mind that bullying is not a one-off occurrence. More often than not, it happens frequently over time. It also does not just happen face to face, it can happen in writing (any form of written communication like email for example) or verbally.


What is bullying at work?

Bullying manifests in different forms. You can be bullied by a co-worker, supervisor, manager or anyone else in your organisation. What constitutes as a bully’s behaviour you ask?

Here are a few examples:

  • Intentional embarrassment, insults, rudeness
  • Yelling
  • Misinformation
  • Victimisation (purposely excluding or ignoring people)
  • Unwarranted professional or personal criticism
  • Making unwanted sexual advances and harassment
  • Sabotaging personal development
  • Spreading gossip or creating rumours
  • Taking credit for someone else’s work
  • Making threats directly or indirectly


The effects of bullying

Being bullied at work causes damage to both your professional and personal lives. The bully is essentially messing with your source of income by making the environment you work in hostile and unpleasant. And who wants to or can work like that?

In addition to losing one’s motivation, a bully’s target may experience anxiety, loss of self-confidence, trouble sleeping and self-esteem issues. Stress, depression, absenteeism, mental and physical health issues have also been documented as the result of being bullied.


Why do bullies, bully?

Dr Michelle Callahan explained on Huffington Post that bullies behave the way that they do because:

  • They enjoy feeling powerful when the other person doesn’t stand up for herself/himself.
  • They are threatened.
  • They have a perfectionist or nit-picky personality, combined with superiority about their skills and abilities.
  • They have mental health problems or a personality disorder.
  • They could be affected by stress and pressure to be high performing and in turn, resort to lashing out.


How to deal with the workplace bully

Remember the advice you received growing up about handling bullies? That sage advice of not engaging the bully still applies in the workplace. You will not only need to set limits on what you will tolerate from a bully. You will need to do it and keep your emotions in check.

It also helps to document everything. Keep a journal (outside the office) of incidents, interactions and who witnessed them. Save your online communication history (emails, IM conversations) too. Consider this your failsafe if you choose to bring the issue to your organisation’s human resources department.

It also helps to ensure that you are on your A game at work. When you avoid missteps like coming in late, taking extra long lunch breaks or handing in sub-par assignments, for example, the bully will have less (or nothing) to use against you to justify his/her actions.


Advice from the Workplace Bullying Institute:

  • Do not feel guilty for not confronting your bully.
  • Do not limit your decision to act in ways that cause you to sacrifice your personal integrity and health just to keep your paycheck. There are chances that your survival strategies alone can create even more serious long-term health and career problems. If the organisation will not change, plan your escape.
  • Do not wait for the impact of bullying to fade with time.
  • Do hold the employer accountable for putting you in harm’s way. It is not your personal responsibility as the victim to fix the mess you did not start. Employers control the work environment.
  • Do not try to reinvent yourself to mimic the bully in efforts to counter their misconduct. you do not have to be unethical to get by.
  • Remember to take HR’s advice with a pinch of salt. Remember HR works for management and they’re not there to give you advice that serves your own best interest.
  • Always state facts. Avoid recounting incidents from an emotional angle.
  • Keep your personal accounts/documentation of encounters with the bully to yourself.
  • Refrain from confiding in anyone at work until they have demonstrated and not just talked about loyalty to you.


At the end of the day, it is important to remind yourself that the source of the problem is external. You did not ask or invite the interference with your work. This is psychological harassment. Calling it what it is can be your first step to invalidate feelings of illegitimacy and self-blame.

It’s not you, it’s the bully.


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