Bullying at work is common

I hear a lot of stories about workplace bullying, and it’s never nice or easy to deal with. Mediation can help, but sometimes, as the receiver of bullying, you just have to walk away. In this article I look at some of the options available when dealing with a bully, and show you how the Oxygen Mask rule applies.

Dealing with a workplace bully is really tough.

The policies in the HR manual make it sound straight forward, but in reality, it’s anything but simple. You speak to your manager, they speak to the bully, perhaps there is a round table discussion or meeting, and for a week or two they might change their ways, but it doesn’t take long until they are at it again. You start to feel there is nothing to be done, and you begin to consider your options. Usually it comes down to a choice between 3 things: stay and put up with it; leave and find another job; or take it to Fair Work Australia and/or Workcover.

I recently mediated a workplace dispute in which allegations of bullying were made by a junior staff member against his immediate supervisor. I was brought in by their manager to see if we could sort it out. After a day and a half of discussion and negotiation it seemed pretty clear to me that the supervisor was a really poor communicator and have not been giving enough or the right type of training to the junior. This was one of those cases where the bloke was not intentionally being a bully, he was just rubbish at his job; but bullying is in the eye of the receiver, and this manager’s lack of skills and empathy resulted in the junior feeling bullied.

Options for responding to workplace bullying

One of the options we came up with was for the junior to find another place to work, and the supervisor would support him in that by giving him a good reference. Another option was to stay on and create a ‘behavioural contract’ whereby they both committed to changing the behaviours that most irritated the other; the third was take it to Fairwork.

In a private session with the junior he was outraged by the idea that, if he left for another workplace, the supervisor would do the same thing to the next person who came along into the role. He wasn’t impressed when I said that wouldn’t be his problem, it would be the company’s problem. He was angry and frustrated that the supervisor would get away with it, that nothing would be done, there would be no consequences for the supervisor. He seemed to feel some sort of obligation to expose this man as a bully, force him to change or be punished, and to protect others from this man’s behaviour.

Now I am all for social responsibility, activism and campaigning for change, but not when it is to your own detriment. If you are a strong person with the fortitude to go through with all the necessary steps to bring a case in Fairwork or with Workcover, by all means go for it, but be aware of the toll it will take on you, your family, your coworkers, and your life in general, not the mention the amount of time and money you could spend on pursuing this.

Oxygen Mask Rule

Those of us who run our own business are familiar with the Oxygen Mask Rule: always put on your own mask first before helping others with their mask. More and more often I want to give my parties the same advice: take care of yourself first.

The Oxygen Mask rule and workplace bullying - take care of yourself first before helping others Click To Tweet

In this case the young man was already stressed out and miserable coming in to work every day because of his supervisor’s attitude and behaviour. It was sapping him of his energy and his enjoyment of life. He did not want to be there and was making a huge effort to get through each and every day. This young man was exhausted. He was worn down. And yet he was seriously contemplating taking the matter further with a complaint to FairWork.

If the workplace is causing you that much misery and you have another option, get the heck out of there!

It is not always up to you to be the hero, to fight for justice. Click To Tweet

It is not always up to you to be the hero, to fight for justice. Don’t let your desire for justice blind you to what is in your own best interests. It’s ok to be selfish and to do what’s best for you. Getting away from a rubbish manager or an immovable bully is a valid option, and the thing with options is, you get to decide which one you take.

Have you escaped a bully or a rubbish manager? Or perhaps you have been accused of being a bully? Share your story in the comments below.

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