You hope it’ll never happen to you. But, at some point in your career, you could be unlucky enough to find yourself being bullied by your manager.

Have you ever felt like you were being bullied by your boss at work? Like your manager not only doesn’t have your best interests in mind, but also doesn’t care about them at all? Well, it turns out that you’re not alone.

A new survey by TopCV has found that 81 per cent of respondents in the UK workforce have felt bullied in the workplace at some point in their careers. Breaking that down, 84 per cent of female respondents and 75 per cent of male respondents reported being bullied by a peer or superior. If you are part of this group, it surely hasn’t been easy. A toxic work environment can wear even the strongest people down; it can make you question your own perceptions too. For instance, you might wonder whether you are being victimised or if you simply have a tough boss. In an interview for Forbes, Tracey C. Jones, President of Tremendous Leadership, explains the difference:

‘The tough boss gives constructive criticism; the bullying boss gives destructive criticism. It all centres on the motives of your boss; are they there to intimidate or to inspire?’

Here are the key behaviours that indicate your boss is a bully:

  • Refusing to give you the tools or information you need to do your job

  • Unfairly taking credit for your work or using you as a scapegoat

  • Undermining you front of others

  • Gossiping or spreading lies

  • Treating you differently from other team members

  • Adopting negative body language to disarm or discourage you (eye-rolling, foot-tapping)

If you’ve experienced any of the above, we’re sure you’ll agree – harassment in the workplace can cause significant emotional and psychological damage. Your first question might be ‘What have I done wrong?’ closely followed by, ‘How can I make it stop?’. However, if you are dealing with this situation right now, there are proactive actions you can take to make it better. Read on to learn how to deal with a bully boss.

Stay cool, calm and collected

Unfortunately, when someone is bullying you, you’re the one left in a tricky situation. Suddenly, you must negotiate the ins and outs of your everyday job role with the added complication of workplace bullying! But remember what’s important: doing your best work while having fun with your friends. Tell yourself that your bully boss is just a blip in your career, and try to stay as calm and disengaged with the issue as possible. In short, don’t let the stress of the situation get to you. Rise above it.

Take the higher ground

Never play a bully boss at their own game – this will only add fuel to the fire. Wherever possible, you should respond in a polite, rational way. Doing so will ensure your bully never has any ammunition against you. Plus, it’s very hard to continue being rude to someone if all you’re getting back are good vibes. So, be the bigger person and respond to their frowns with smiles.

Let them know how you feel

Addressing conflict can be difficult, but it’s an important step in dealing with workplace bullying at the hands of your boss. If you don’t feel comfortable directly confronting your boss, there are a couple of ways you can let them know how their actions are making you feel. The first is by email. After a specific incident, try sending them a short, succinct message that explains what happened and how it made you feel. Phrase it in a way that removes the blame from them, though – you don’t want to be too accusatory right off the bat. Try starting with something like ‘I’m sure you didn’t mean to, but…’.

Another great opportunity to open up this kind of conversation is in your one-to-one review sessions, if you get them. Chances are your boss will ask how you’ve been doing. That’s your opening. If you lead with how you have been feeling – ‘I’ve been feeling passed over’, ‘I’ve been feeling out of the loop’, etc., then that removes the insinuation of blame.

Letting your boss know you’re on to their bullying ways can sometimes be enough to rebalance the relationship. It can make them respect you more and make you feel more in control, too.

Keep track of the evidence

There may come a time that you want to share what’s been happening on a formal level. To prepare for this, you should keep any messages or screenshots as proof. You should also note down the times and dates of any situations that are indicative of their bullying behaviour. Creating a case file will give you solid examples to build a discussion around, if the time comes. It will also help you find the right words to describe what’s been happening.

Make a complaint

If you have tried and failed to resolve the problem independently, a formal intervention might be the best way forward.

  1. Your first step should be your human resources (HR) team. They should be able to provide impartial, confidential advice to all employees, without repercussion. You may not want to make a formal complaint initially, but you can always use your conversation with HR to scope out the process.

  2. Your employer may also have a company grievance policy in place – check your handbook or intranet for further information. There are also laws around workplace bullying. Read up so that you know your rights.

  3. As an additional port of call, you can also contact the ACAS (Advice, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). This public body aims to improve workplace environments. Give them a call if you need help, especially if you don’t feel comfortable talking with an HR representative.

Remember: You’re not to blame

If you are being bullied at work, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault. Just like you are told in secondary school, the issue lies with the bully, not the victim. For example, perhaps your manager feels inadequate in some way or believes that they must dominate others to maintain their authority.

And another thing, don’t think that just because you’re a victim of bullying at work, you have to leave. If you like your company and get on with your colleagues, stand your ground and fight for it. Don’t give your bully boss the power they crave – weather the storm and seek support. Do not let them push you out.

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