How to deal with bullying at work: for employees and employers [Mental Health Series]

Workplace bullying is a serious issue that can lead to decreased morale, lower productivity, and absenteeism. Not surprisingly, competitive workplaces like real estate offices, are not free from bullying.

As both employees and employers, it’s important you know how to recognise and manage bullying in your agency.

In this Mental Health Series article, we identify some of the signs of workplace bullying and provide guidance for how to deal with it.

Awareness of workplace bullying and harassment has increased over recent years, as has the introduction of policies and procedures for managing it.

Despite this, bullying at work has certainly not been wiped out completely, and unfortunately, according to the ABC, half of Australians have experienced it.

As employees, it is up to you to know what bullying looks like, to support your colleagues, and understand where to seek support if you need it.

As employers, it is important you ensure your staff know what will and will not be tolerated and how they are to conduct themselves and treat others in your workplace.

Understanding and identifying bullying

Workplace bullying occurs when one or more employees treat another employee in a way that is unappropriated or unacceptable, over a period of time.

As a colleague or manager, look out for some of these signs:

  • Blatant bullying. The most obvious signs are when you or one of your team sees an employee (or a group of them) deliberately intimidating, humiliating or threatening another employee. You might also witness or hear about someone sabotaging a colleague’s work (for example, hiding information, stopping them from getting to appointments on time), or physically or verbally attacking a colleague.
  • Increased absenteeism. Outside of obvious and blatant bullying, you may note that an employee has been taking increased sick days, coming into work late, sticking to themselves or not leaving their office.
  • Decreased productivity and focus. Another sign an employee is being bullied is in the work they produce — perhaps they produce less of it or the quality deteriorates. This can result from a lack of focus, or from feeling anxious or threatened.
  • Exclusion. Keep an eye out for an employee who deliberately excludes a colleague — this might be as simple as shutting them out of group conversations or inviting everyone but them to a weekly team lunch.
  • Eroding confidence. If one of your employees seems to be losing their confidence in their work and abilities, look at why that may be the case and remember, managers can be bullies too. Is their manager or colleague shaming their work or questioning them in a humiliating way in front of others? Does he/she mock their ideas? Does she promise projects or listings and then award them to someone else? Has he changed their role or removed some of their authority? Does he constantly criticise them?

Managing bullying as an employer

Managers of an organisation are responsible for the well-being of employees  (including after hours if they have contact with other employees or clients).

To prevent workplace bullying, and to manage it if it does occur, it is important you develop a workplace bullying policy (here is a great template from Heads Up).

This policy should help employees understand what workplace bullying is, teach them the signs to identify it and make them aware of what steps they should take to address it.

Your workplace policies should be made available to new staff members as they join your team — but education should not stop there. Your team should be regularly reminded of the main workplace polices in meetings so they know there is always help and support if they need it.

As a manager, it is also important you recognise the signs of workplace bullying, initiate a careful conversation if the bullying victim doesn’t, and you should ensure you take every allegation seriously.

Make certain all employees understand the consequences of bullying, and, if an investigation proves its occurrence, adhere to the penalties you have included in your policy.

Managing bullying as an employee

If bullying is occurring in your workplace, you may find yourself in one of two situations: you may personally be bullied by a colleague or manager, or you might be aware this is happening to someone else. So, how can you approach either situation?

  1. Understand a bully’s motivations

Understanding why someone is bullying you or someone else can be a useful first step, though is not always possible. A lot of the time, this will come down to the personality type of the bully or other circumstances in their life (whether at work or home) for which they need an outlet to feel better.

Your bully might be:

  • An obvious bully and an angry person. They may be purely motivated by their own frustration — often, the best route with these bullies is to seek support from management.
  • Overly competitive. You may also encounter bullies who are otherwise lovely people, but when put into a competitive situation (which may be every day at work for your business), they become cut-throat and nasty.
  • A puppet. Your bully might be someone who is simply carrying out the orders of someone else. This absolutely doesn’t excuse their behaviour, but finding the source (perhaps it’s the Director because of a worker’s comp claim or something of this nature) can help you manage the problem.
  • Overcompensating for feelings of inadequacy. Your bully might just be having a rough time at home, or not doing so well at work, and you just happen to be the next person to have a notable win. This frustration can manifest as ongoing bullying when a person takes out their frustration with their own failures or challenges, on you.
  • A narcissist. Often charming, narcissists have an over-inflated sense of self and entitlement and seek out power and authority. They can seem lovely to most people while secretly destroying the confidence of their victim — getting people to believe your accusations can be quite difficult in this situation.
  1. Keep detailed records

Ensuring you get that support and you are believed can come down to something as simple as keeping a diary.

Over even a short period of time, keep your diary close and make sure you record each incident of bullying, in detail, with a time and a date.

Drawing on this later can help you prove to a manager that everything you are saying is accurate.

  1. Know your rights and company policy

Your company should have a policy you were presented with at induction.

In this policy, you should find a detailed explanation of the types of behaviour expected in your workplace and what is unacceptable. The policy should direct you to a process for reporting bullying at work and guidance for how incidents will be dealt with.

  1. Confront bullying head on

Armed with the knowledge of why your bully may be behaving as they are, and your company policy, if you feel comfortable, take a trusted colleague with you and initiate a conversation with the bully.

Without being aggressive, point out to the person how they have been treating you and how it has been making you feel, and ensure they understand it is against company policy.

If you don’t feel comfortable confronting your bully, make a time with a senior manager and provide them with the same information — what has been going on, how it makes you feel and how it violates company policy.

If you can, show them your diary so they have evidence of the volume and scale of the incidents and can use this when they confront your bully for you.

Overall, remember that, though it may be difficult, if you spot bullying at work, or you are being bullied, it is important you report it — not just so you feel better and enjoy your work more, but also because you may not be the only victim.

You may find our Mental Health Toolkit for real estate useful when developing company policy and dealing with bullying.

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