We may most commonly associate bullying with children and teens, but it can happen at any age. If you are experiencing any of the following situations at your day job, during rehearsals or practices, or as you work for someone else in your side gig, you are experiencing workplace bullying.
Criticizing, yelling, scolding, or correcting to the point that your job is made more difficult.
The only people who don’t get criticized or corrected by their boss at some point are those in business for themselves, and even self-employed people and business owners have to listen to clients, customers, staff, and vendors if they want to stay around. Unless you’re wealthy enough that you can hire people whose jobs depend on never telling you “no,” work is not going to be an unending series of perfect days. That said, supervisors, coworkers, and clients should speak to you with respect as a fellow human being, and any correcting or criticism should leave you better at your job, not fearful, nervous, confused, embarrassed or demoralized about being there.
Mocking, teasing, or baiting to the point that your job is made more difficult.
Normal teasing and joking around, banter, even discussions of controversial issues can be part of the culture at some workplaces. It isn’t bullying if they give everyone a nickname based on their department, so they’ve started calling you “Kitchen Sue” or “Waiter John,” or if you came in wearing a jacket covered in Obama buttons on your first day, so they tease you in a friendly way about being the company’s only liberal. It is bullying if the nickname is intended to embarrass or belittle you, and makes it more difficult to concentrate on your work in the kitchen or interact with the customers on the floor, or if the teasing is done in a way that lets you know you’re not wanted or being held to a different set of standards than the others.
Deliberately sabotaging your work or professional reputation
The classic example of this is the co-worker who wants your job, and decides to get it by erasing data from your computer to make it seem like you did not do your work. Hollywood likes to portray workplace bullies as people who leave embarrassing or disgusting things in a co-worker’s locker or desk drawer, both to upset them and to force them to spend time cleaning the items out instead of doing their work. Hiding materials, files, contact information, or other necessary tools from you is also bullying behavior.
Nobody is obligated to tell others how wonderful you are if you are in fact awful to them or terrible at your job. But the coworker who makes unnecessary or unwarranted complaints about you to the supervisor or other coworkers is also guilty of workplace bullying. Creating an environment where you cannot work effectively, such as insisting you sit in a cramped, cold space or in the office nearest a major construction project, is also a form of sabotage.
Changing instructions or expectations, or creating confusion that makes the job more difficult.
Asking an employee or a consultant to adapt something to changing circumstances is not workplace bullying. If you’re working on a display of products that have been recalled, being asked to take it down is not unreasonable. If you’re creating a sales presentation, and the client has sent in more details of what they’re looking for from your company, of course you need to add them in. But you should go in to work every day knowing what is expected of you at your job. If this seems to change at random, with projects assigned to you, then re-assigned, then given back to you, the supervisor is more intent on creating chaos for you than getting the work done.
Treating you differently than other employees, consultants, or vendors are treated, in a way that makes working for them more difficult, or has a detrimental impact on your career or reputation.
Any business is going to treat their office manager or longtime receptionist differently than the person who fills the soda machine in the break room once a week. And you should not expect to be consulted on projects that are not yours, or are from departments you are not in. The behavior becomes bullying when you are treated differently than others in a similar position, and the treatment impacts your ability to do your job or pursue your career.
Being left out of the employee baseball team because you’re a consultant is not bullying. Being left out of a meeting where future projects are planned is bullying. You were not bullied if you had to stand there and watch everyone in sales receive a gift basket and you did not because you’re in customer service. You are being bullied if you had to sit there and watch another customer service employee receive excessive praise the minute before you were yelled at until you couldn’t concentrate enough to do your job.
Workplace bullying is not a bad job, just a difficult boss, or a stressful situation. It is a deliberate attempt by one person or group to control another through unfair manipulation of his or her work life. The goal of a bad boss may vary, from maintaining an image to a mistaken belief that they’re being tough or authoratative. The goal of a workplace bully is to tear down the target of the bullying behavior.