How to Handle an Office Bully

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How to Handle Office Bully | BCBusiness
Image by: Jeremy Bruneel

Three experts offer advice on how to handle a workplace bully.

Anyone who thought their days of being bullied ended with middle school graduation may be in for a shock when they’re faced with mean words, rumours and even physical harassment at the office. Just because your co-workers are adults doesn’t mean they’ll always act responsibly, and bullying is one teenage carry-over that appears all too frequently in the workplace. For inside advice on how to respond if you find yourself in the crosshairs of an office bully, we spoke with three experts: Christian Codrington, senior manager of operations at B.C. Human Resources Management Association; Donna Brown, organization development division manager at Metro Vancouver; and Robyn Durling, communications officer with the B.C. Human Rights Clinic.


Be Direct

If you feel comfortable doing it, the best first step is to “tell the person that their behaviour is unacceptable,” says Durling. Codrington agrees, noting that going “straight to the person that you feel is the source” can cut out any ambiguity and may be the fastest and simplest way to deal with the problem, especially if it is still in the early stages and has yet to get out of hand. Downplaying or ignoring a bad situation ensures that it won’t be addressed properly.


Look For Help

When a calm conversation with the bully fails to yield results, follow up with another source for help. Who that next source is depends on the structure of the organization, says Durling: at a small business you may need to go straight to the owner, but “most big organizations will have a number of people that you can report bullying to,” he says. Brown emphasizes that her human resources department is the first stop for anyone facing bullying or harassment, saying she offers everything from general advice to “a facilitated discussion” – whatever the individual is most comfortable with.


Keep a Record

All of the experts advised keeping a record, since a document can help to validate your complaints, and putting things on paper makes them much harder to ignore. Brown agrees wholeheartedly, saying she often tells employees to document everything that occurs during an encounter, right down to their emotional reaction. Codrington takes a slightly different approach, and is wary of keeping detailed, and sometimes unverifiable, notes on every encounter. He suggests focusing on the hard facts, saying that you should simply “document your own actions and what people have agreed to do.”


Know Your Options

If it’s impossible to find a solution internally, Codrington and Durling emphasize how important it is that employees know their legal rights. They point to new compensation laws that have recently come into place in B.C.: workers who suffer psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety or depression, due to constant and long-term harassment might now be eligible to make a disability claim. Our experts admit that this drastic step should not be taken lightly, but say that using all of the resources at your disposal may be the only way to truly solve the problem and end your bullying, permanently.



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