How do I handle a workplace bully?

Working in a place where you feel bullied takes a huge toll on your mental health. 

Whether you are a target or an observer, workplace bullying has toxic effects. If bullying of any sort is occurring in your workplace, there are steps you can take to address it.

Acknowledge that there is a problem

Oftentimes, bullies or toxic workplaces can make you feel as if it's your fault. They can be dismissive of complaints or even reward problem behavior. Calling bullying what it is—whether it’s verbal, physical, psychological, or online—validates your experience. By giving it a name, you can remind yourself that it is a real problem and you are not to blame.

Document the behavior

Regardless of the future steps you may take, it's important to keep a record of toxic workplace behavior. Whether you plan to use the legal system, human resources, or the advice of your superiors, it's helpful to have specific examples to support your claims. This can serve as a reminder that the abuse is more than just a "feeling": it is the behaviors of others.

It's also important to keep this documentation confidential until you decide upon a course of action.

Focus on healing and support

Being in an abusive workplace affects your mental and physical health. Think about the ways your health has been impacted. If you find you are suffering, seek help from medical or mental health professionals. Make sure to also practice healthy habits outside of work, like getting enough sleep and making time for self-care.

Focus on building support outside of work with family and friends. Draw attention to your strengths and value as a person. Because workplace bullying can hurt your relationships with others and your self-esteem, it's important to build up other areas of your life. Although someone is bullying you, you do not have to bully others or yourself. 

Strategize

Take time to search through company policies, as well as state and federal legal options. Allowing yourself to take a step back from situation and consult outside resources may help you to determine the best way move forward. Depending on your experiences, this can include discussion with a lawyer. You may also want to consider looking into other employment opportunities.

Take action

Taking action against workplace bullying will look different based on your level of comfort, workplace environment, and relationships with coworkers and superiors.

The simplest action is to calmly, yet firmly tell the individual that you do not want to be bullied and ask that it stop. This can be surprisingly effective, as many people do not directly confront bullies. And some bullies don't realize they are doing it until someone points it out.

If the bullying is more widespread or occurs at the hands of your superiors, this might not be the best or most comfortable option. Whether you speak with trusted coworkers, leaders, or human resources, know that they may not be helpful. It's important to make them aware of your situation, but there could be other social dynamics at play that will make them reluctant to act. They may be supportive of the bully or even interpret the bully's behavior as desirable.

On the other hand, they may be aware that there is an issue with this individual and are looking for support from employees. Either way, it's important to explain that allowing bullying in the workplace is a poor business practice. It can have serious implications for employees and, as a result, the company’s bottom line.

If the bullying or abuse in your workplace requires legal action, you should follow the advice of your attorney.


Remember, you are your priority. If your employer refuses to acknowledge the toxic workplace environment, it may be time for you to move on. Continuing in this workplace can cause or worsen any physical or psychological symptoms you may be experiencing. It's not your responsibility to change the culture of your workplace, but it is important for you to make the decisions that are best for your well-being. You're not running away from conflict or showing signs of weakness. You're showing strength by bringing abuse to the light and taking steps to care for yourself. 

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