Bullies at Work...On the Rise? (Worth Fighting Back?)

By J.T. O'Donnell Last week, over at the Twitter Advice Project (T.A.P. into CAREEREALISM), our career experts got a challenging question from a follower who recently laid off a job where he or she had been bullied:

I see workplace bullying as an increasing trend…especially, since it happened to me.

It happened at my previous job with my supervisor. She would humiliate me and degrade me, while upper management did nothing. I ended up getting laid off when cuts were made. What can one do to protect themselves from this?

The outpouring of answers and comments to this post were very telling: Yes, workplace bullying appears to be on the rise - with confronting the bully (carefully!) as the universal piece of advice given. Here are what some of our CAREEREALISM Experts had to say: @BenEubanks - an HR manager, shared this perspective:

Never be silent! Chances are you're not the only one being bullied by this person. And you never really know if someone else is going to snap after too much pressure. Workplace violence is a serious issue, and I'd hate to think that I could have stood up and got the attention of upper management about a bully but chose not to, especially if something drastic happens as a result. I'm sorry that this happened to you, but the layoff was a blessing in disguise. If upper management knows and still doesn't do anything (and you've even tried approaching HR). then find another job and leave. There is no reason to try and work in those conditions. But you just said that "upper management did nothing." Doesn't necessarily mean that they knew what was going on.

@teenarose - a resume expert, had personal experience with bullying:

Handling bully bosses can be tricky, though, especially if you want to remain employed. What worked for me years ago was simply looking my boss in the eye and responding [after a morning of eating a heap of ‘abuse’, of course] with, “I don’t deserve your tone and inappropriate behavior, so why are you giving it to me?” I didn’t get an answer; and, I was lucky I didn’t lose my job because my comments were off-the-cuff and I didn’t have a Plan B in place...I later learned her actions were being watched by her bosses — maybe I had a hand in that. I’m only slightly ashamed to admit I experienced great happiness the day I learned my boss was demoted. I maybe even had a permanent smirk on my face each time I spoke with her? Bullying bosses should be rewarded with high employee turnover rates, an under-producing team, lawsuits from former employees for unfair treatment, and a good old-fashioned firing! Bullying should never be tolerated.

@DebraWheatman - also a resume expert, shared how allowing bullying to continue defines you:

It is imperative that you stick up for yourself. Make your point known that you will not tolerate being treated poorly. Oftentimes, people do not like confrontation. If you present your situation in a cogent manner and bring to light your concerns, you will likely get positive results. Allowing someone to humiliate you sends the message that you will tolerate it. If you quickly and firmly establish your ground, you will set the tone that you are deserving of respect and will not settle for less.

@Keppie_Careers - a career advisor, offered evidence to support the increase in bullying and some sound guidelines for dealing with it:

It might help to know that you are not alone if you feel bullied at work. According to a nationwide poll by theEmployment Law Alliance, close to 45 percent of American workers say they have worked for a bad boss or have experienced workplace abuse. And a recent Florida State University study proves what experts have believed for years: Employees don’t leave their job or company, they change careers to leave their boss. It turns out that a good working environment is often more important to job satisfaction than pay. In fact, eBossWatch.com, a service that allows you to rate your boss (and warn others of a boss who bullies), was founded to offer workers an opportunity to share information about being bullied.

The researchers also found that employees with an abusive boss experienced higher levels of exhaustion, job tension, nervousness and depressed moods. So, how to address the problem? Dawn Rosenberg McKay, who writes About.com's Guide to Career Planning suggests:

- Seek the advice of a trusted mentor who may have dealt with this situation before. - If you can, confront the bully in a professional manner, but only if your physical safety isn’t threatened. Stay calm. - Don’t try to win over other people to your side. - Don’t allow the bully to intimidate you or make you feel bad about yourself. You know your true worth. Don’t forget what that is. - Do your job and do it well. - Make sure your superiors are aware of your work. - Don’t allow the bully to isolate you from your colleagues. Keep up your workplace friendships.

Read more about how to recognize workplace bullying and how to handle it at my blog there: https://greatplacejobs.com/blog/?s=bully

@RTResumePro - also a career advisor, offered insight on how to tell if you are being bullied:

You cannot easily protect yourself from being bullied. We have nothing to do with the behavior directed towards us, only the behavior we return. If someone in the workplace is out to harm you with words or action, they do so out of ignorance and you have no control over his or her ignorance. Confrontation or public condemnation may make matters worse. It can get quite messy. When it happens to you, still, there are things you can do!

On Bullying…Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re working for a boss who is very, very tough and extremely demanding to a point where h/she overwhelms you, or a bully who uses his power to hurt or take advantage of others who are not in a position to protect themselves... (read on)... https://bit.ly/zZt5x

What are your thoughts readers? Have you been bullied on-the-job? How did you handle it? Do you agree with the advice above? Got some other ideas on what one can do to fight back? We'd be grateful if you would share your own advice and insights below so we can make this post a truly comprehensive resource for those who are experiencing this problem.