7 tips to protect yourself from workplace bullying

We tend to associate ‘bullies’ with the school yard. But unfortunately bullying can follow us long past the time we leave the school gates.

Workplace bullying is a huge issue in Australia. Even if you’ve escaped bullying at school, you could still find yourself the target of bullies as an adult, so you need to know why they do it (hint: it’s not about you) and how you can protect yourself.

Why do people bully?

It’s not really about the victim. Generally, bullies are using ineffective coping techniques to tackle issues in their own lives, like a lack of confidence or a feeling that they’ve lost control.

People become bullies because:

  • They want to have control over others
  • They want to improve their social status
  • They don’t feel very good about themselves, and want others to feel as bad as they do
  • They are angry or frustrated about something and take it out on you
  • They have been bullied themselves in another setting, and bullying gives them back their feeling of power

(For more on why people bully, check out this resource from Kids Helpline.)

See, none of these reasons include anything about the victim.

Which means there’s nothing you’ve done wrong, and there’s nothing wrong with you.

People who bully others are actually more likely to have lifelong issues with anxiety and depression than those who have never bullied (see this article for more info).

The same reasons for bullying apply to bullies at school and in the workplace. The difference is that in a workplace the bully is often also the boss. So, how can we protect ourselves from becoming a victim of workplace bullying?

Seven tips to protect yourself from bullying

Tip 1 – Keep a diary

Record when, where, who was there, and what happened. Include every interaction, and also record how it made you feel. If you’re ever in a position where you need to prove what happened you’ll be armed with the facts.

Tip 2 – Maintain your professionalism

Remember that you’re there to work, not hang out. Sure, make friends and have a good time, but maintaining some of the professional lines in your workplace can help you more easily identify inappropriate behaviour.

Tip 3 – Don’t separate yourself from your old friends

Even if your workplace becomes your favourite place to hang out (and with some offices now boasting cafés, bars, chill out zones, and weekly drinks sessions, it’s possible you’ll enjoy work more than home), try to keep some friends who don’t work in the same place as you, and put energy into those relationships.

Tip 4 – Do what you can to separate yourself from the person

If you can, change your shifts so they don’t overlap, or see if you can work in a different department. It’s not always a long term solution, but separating yourself can help you deal with the immediate problem while you look for a long-term solution.

Tip 5 – If you feel safe and confident enough you can stand up to the bully

State clearly that you’re not going to tolerate their behaviour, and that you’re aware that you can take action to get them to stop. Try to ensure you have witnesses, or put it in writing so you have documented evidence.

Tip 6 – Report it

The best thing you can do if you’re experiencing any form of bullying is tell someone. Your employer not only has an obligation to keep you safe at work, chances are they’re also probably a good person who doesn’t want any of their workers to be hurt or upset. You could go to your manager, someone in human resources, or even a union representative.

Tip 7 – What about if your boss or manager is the problem?

All of the above tips can help, but if your boss or manager is causing the issue you may need to go ‘over their head’ to get the problem to stop. Organisations are becoming more proactive at stomping out bullying at every level, so chances are someone more senior than your boss or manager will want to help.

If all else fails you can try your legal options. Contact your local Legal Aid clinic, explain what’s happening, and they should be able to point you in the right direction. This resource from the Fair Work Ombudsman goes over your rights and options to stop bullying in the workplace.

What you can do to help stop bullying

  • Bullying. No Way! Have put together some resources for parents to help you learn how to respond if your child is being bullied.
  • The School Toilet Project recognises that school toilets are ‘the one place we know upset students naturally gravitate to’, and aims to make them safe, nurturing places.
  • ReachOut have some advice about what to do if you witness someone else being bullied.
  • The National Centre Against Bullying has some tips for you if you want to help a friend who is being bullied.

How to find help if you are being (or have been) bullied at school

  • Go to your teachers. They’re trained to help you and support you, and they can be instrumental in stopping the bullying.
  • Tell your parents. If they don’t know what’s happening it’s hard for them to help you, and trust me, they want to help you.
  • Call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. They’ll talk you through everything and help you work out some next steps. Their website is packed with articles and resources to help you as well.
  • headspace are another fantastic resource – you can call them or chat with them online.
  • ReachOut have lots of fantastic online resources to help you understand bullying a find a way to move beyond it.
  • Want to know where you stand? Youth Law Australia can help you learn about your legal rights when it comes to bullying and cyberbullying.

Friday 18 August is National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence. NDA encourages whole-school communities to work together to implement evidence-informed positive and proactive solutions to prevent and address bullying.


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