Many of us are raised to believe work is not supposed to be enjoyable. You go to work because you need money, and that’s it. Any unpleasantness is just part of the job, and you have to put up with it.
We do have to find work, do our work, and pay our expenses, and it’s not always going to be fulfilling, interesting, or pleasant on any level. Sometimes you do just have to take a crappy job and keep that crappy job if you want to continue to play your music under functioning lights or take a hot shower before you settle down to paint or write your novel.
But there are instances where an unpleasant workplace crosses the line into bullying…..
The key difference between an unpleasant but normal work environment and workplace bullying is that in workplace bullying, certain people are targeted with behavior that seeks to harm them in some way.
The guy who never talks to anyone, and snaps at everyone who greets him is not a workplace bully. The one who takes over the break room and makes it miserable for select people he targets is a bully. A supervisor who goes around yelling all the time is certainly not a good boss, but unless people in the office are genuinely afraid, they’re just a bad boss, not a bully. The supervisor who yells at certain people, or whose behavior is so extreme it frightens people, has crossed the line.
Examples of workplace bullying behavior include verbal degradation and humiliation, exclusion from meetings or events that impact the target’s work or career, excessive monitoring and micromanaging, inequitable treatment, sabotaging another’s work, gossiping with the intent to ruin another professionally, invalid criticism or blaming, and deliberating creating confusion or difficulties completing work.
This sounds like an overly broad list that can include everything unpleasant a person can do, but again, there are distinctive features. The key is if the behavior causes the target extra difficulties in completing their work, and/or impacts their professional or personal reputation in a harmful way. If I’m excluded from the company picnic because my coworkers simply do not like me personally, and nothing that might impact my work ever goes on, that is certainly cold, but it is not bullying. However, if the company picnic is the place where new projects are discussed, and I don’t get the chance to present mine, that is bullying behavior.
Sometimes, seemingly “nice” behavior can be a feature of workplace bullying, if it is used to manipulate situations to harm others.
Constantly complimenting one employee or contractor or treating them well while belitting or embarrassing another is an example of workplace bullying. Workplace bullies may also foster competition that is out of line with the work environment.
Supervisors, managers, or owners are often the bullies, as they can use their power in the company to get away with it. But workplace bullies can be co-workers, contractors, or even those below you.
Anyone who engages in bullying behavior is a bully, regardless of their position in or relationship to the company. Lower level workplace bullies may be easier to fire, but some workplace bullies use other sources of power to get away with bullying. If a business really needs someone with teaching experience, and I’m the only person with teaching experience willing to work there, I have found a source of power. They know it would be difficult to replace me, so I can “get away” with things that might not otherwise be tolerated. Bullies often use this insight about their skills and their workplace to get away with bullying. If your supervisor is afraid of you, but they’re also afraid to fire you because they know they’re not likely to find someone else with your skills, you are a bully.
Every job you ever work is not going to be enjoyable. That is just a fact of life. But you should be able to do the work you were hired to do without someone else deliberately making it more difficult.