5 signs your boss or co-worker is an office bully

Anyone who spends enough time in an office will eventually encounter toxic personalities. Many people occasionally feel belittled, misunderstood or undervalued in their professional roles. But when does a supervisor or co-worker’s behavior cross the line from annoying to potential legal nightmare? The answer lies in understanding what constitutes workplace bullying.

“Being bullied can have a variety of tells: erratic behavior, depression, anxiety, absenteeism, appearing withdrawn or expressing a sense of isolation,” says Thomas Krever, CEO of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, which provides support and programming for at-risk LGBT youth. Bullying is “abusive conduct” that feels threatening, humiliating or intimidating, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute, which works to study, correct and prevent abusive conduct at work.

Even with these clear definitions and guidelines for noticing red flags, it can be difficult to recognize bullying behavior at work — particularly if you are emotionally upset from experiencing it. You might think that bullies are only a problem for children and turn a blind eye to such behavior in adults. You might also be reluctant to view yourself as the victim of a bully, feeling like it means you are a weak person or incompetent employee.

Here are five signs that suggest you may be bullied at work.

1. Not receiving credit for your work. Failing to receive credit for work that you’ve done — or receiving an inordinate amount of criticism — could be part of a bullying campaign to make you look bad or incompetent, says Sherri Mitchell, president and co-founder of All About People, a national recruiting and staffing franchise.

“These critiques often have no merit, but they can impact others’ impressions of you if you don’t speak up,” says Mitchell. “To prevent this, set clear expectations and roles at the outset of a project, so the bully can’t claim your accomplishments or blame you for their mistakes.”

2. Being aggressively managed. Even bosses can be bullies. If your manager corrects you in public rather than private, uses impolite or unprofessional word choices when communicating with you or sets your deadlines based on personal whims rather than team goals and priorities, that may be bullying, says Arron Grow, associate program director for the School of Applied Leadership at City University of Seattle. Grow suggests treading lightly if you are in this position. “Offending a manager, justified or not, intentional or not, can be career suicide,” he says.

3. Becoming the butt of jokes. While kidding around in the office is common, it’s different when you’re constantly targeted about character traits that you can’t change. “If you bully someone for not pulling their weight, they can get better at their job — rude nonetheless but a person can change,” says Richie Frieman, author of “Reply All … And Other Ways to Tank Your Career.” “However, if it’s about their look, that is flat-out grade-school bullying and has to stop.”

People who are targeted for trash-talking, name-calling and mocking — either at meetings or behind the scenes when no one is around to hear it — are being bullied, says Susan Skog, author of “Mending the Sisterhood & Ending Women’s Bullying.”

4. Noticing the “mob effect.” If everyone in the office suddenly turns against you, avoids you or cuts you out of important conversations, they may be exhibiting bullying behavior. According to Skog, this includes being systematically shunned from meetings, then finding out that important information that impacts your performance is being withheld from you. “This one is hard to combat because an employer will typically take the word of many over the word of one,” says Mitchell. “Here it would be appropriate to go through the human resources office to look at your options for addressing harassment.”

5. Feeling sick. The pernicious effects of bullying can take a heavy toll on your health. If the experiences you’re having in the office make you feel like throwing up the night before your week begins, this is another common sign of bullying, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. “In the short-term, targets of bullies may experience health problems, such as headaches, difficulty concentrating, depression and sleep and anxiety issues,” says Tara Fishler, a conflict-resolution specialist and founder of Customized Training Solutions, a New York-based provider of conflict resolution, training and strategic management services. “They are also more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs. Victims may fear meetings, office activities or even going to the workplace. Their work performance often suffers.”

Fishler, who is also an attorney, recommends that adults who are being bullied at work document all incidents in detail and report bullying behavior to a supervisor or their HR department. They also can report it to other authorities, such as their local Human Rights Commission. “Other tactics for dealing with bullies are to avoid or ignore the bully,” says Fishler. “As a harsh last resort, if the situation isn’t improving and the strain on their health or work performance becomes too much, victims may need to consider changing jobs.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that anyone who is perceived as “different” from the organizational norm may be particularly likely to be targeted by a workplace bully. This includes racial minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Diagnostic tools exist for employers who want to help prevent bullying of certain groups and implement best practices, such as Hetrick-Martin’s PRYSM Scan, which helps employers create a workplace supportive of LGBT employees. The scan looks at all areas of an organization to determine if there are comprehensive policies, physical environments and safety measures in place that reflect and foster diversity and inclusiveness.

“Someone being bullied should find allies in other staff and seek HR or union guidance where applicable,” says Krever. “Most importantly, someone being bullied should neither feel nor address the situation alone. Employers have a responsibility to create a safe working environment for all employees.”

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5 Signs Your Boss or Co-Worker Is an Office Bully originally appeared on usnews.com

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