Ask LH: How Can I Deal With A Workplace Bully?

Ask LH: How Can I Deal With A Workplace Bully?

Hi Lifehacker, I need some advice regarding a workplace bully — who happens to be the wife of the boss. She recently verbally abused a staff member for being sick for three days last week and generally acts like she can do whatever she wants without regard for other people. I don’t believe anyone in the company including the boss are confident enough to confront her about her actions as she is quite outspoken.

I do have the option to contact the silent owners but I’m not sure how much they would care. Something needs to happen because this person is destroying the company. Any ideas? Thanks, Bully Thinking

Workplace bully picture from Shutterstock

Dear BT,

Bullies often rely on no reaction, so you’re definitely better off speaking out. Don’t let the fact that the bully is married to your boss stop you. If anything, this should galvanize your HR department to act — especially in light of the recent GitHub controversy.

If the company is run professionally, your concerns about workplace bullying will be treated with the gravity they deserve. Try and convince a few colleagues to complain at the same time. (The guy who received a bollocking for being sick sounds like a good candidate.) A united front isn’t really something that management can ignore; just be sure to broach the topic with co-workers you can actually trust.

Alternatively, it might be possible to make the bully see the error of her ways by actively drawing attention to inappropriate behavior as soon as it occurs.

According to this Harvard Business report, some workplace bullies aren’t aware of what they are doing — the “bullying” might have more to do with a daily repetitive act instead of an actual intent to do harm. Making a bully pay attention to his/her actions, then, can be as simple as disrupting their routine:

Current research in neuroscience supports the concept the “neurons that fire together, wire together” — that is, behaviours repeatedly practiced get more entrenched over time and become unconscious habits. Deliberate interruption sets the stage for change. Leaders can disrupt bullying by providing a safe, confidential space in which employees can talk about their experiences without fear of retaliation — whether from co-workers or management.

The next time the boss’ wife flies off the handle, politely but firmly explain that yelling at staff is uncalled for and unprofessional. If she responds with further victimisation, you then have cause to take it higher up.

On a final note, sometimes leaving an intolerable workplace beats sticking around. If nothing is working it might be time to dust off your resume and find a new job. Life is rarely 100 per cent fair — all you can do it suck it up and move on.

See also: How To Work With A Boss You Hate

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • And keep a log. Last thing you need is a he said / she said scenario. Log when it happened, to who, what was said, how it was said (can help differentiate between mere frustration and bullying) and how it made you feel. That way you’ve got more proof that it’s happening.

    • I understand this is standard practice, but how does keeping a written log prove anything? All the other party has to do is claim the log was falsified, and it’s now a he wrote / she wrote scenario. How is that any better?

      • There will invariably be witnesses unless it all takes place in a soundproof room. Even then, you can ask to take a workmate in with you.

        If you are in a union, contact them for advice.

      • Contemporaneous notes are considered reliable evidence in civil proceedings. Given Fair Work now has powers to deal with bullying, it’s actually a really good idea.

      • You could email it to yourself too – that should be a good record that you’ve written these over time rather than compiled a list the night before (providing you are not the mail admin!)

    • I was bullied over a period of about 2 years, and I cannot agree more with this advice. The worst thing in the world is feeling terrible because of your experiences, and then having your boss / HR turn around and say “Sorry but we can’t take action unless there’s evidence.”

  • My advice, if this is a family company and there’s *any* nepotism involved, run and don’t look back.

    • But make sure you do it calmly. If you end up verbally abusing her back, you’ll look like the bad guy. Stay calm and logical and the wind will fall out of her sails as she realises what a jerk she looks like. [Cue a flood of tears from her to make herself look like the victim]

  • If she is literally destroying the company’s long-term future profitability, it is time to look for another job.

    You definitely don’t want to be there when the receivers are called in.

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