It would be nice to think that bullying would end once we left school, but the unfortunate reality for many of us is that harassment, intimidation, and mistreatment can rear their ugly heads at various points throughout life, with the workplace being no exception.
Disrespect, bullying, and abuse in the workplace take many forms. It can take the form of verbal mockery and belittle, or it might take the form of being constantly held back and overlooked for promotion, despite your exemplary work record, and your highly polished skill set.
Sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish between working in a generally negative and hostile office environment and being the specific recipient of untoward abuse. If, however, you feel you’re being disrespected, and perhaps held back, in the workplace, here are a few things you can consider doing.
#1 Consider pursuing legal action
If you feel that you have been subject to real abuse in the workplace – to the extent that it constitutes a genuine criminal offence, you should, of course, consider getting in touch with employment attorneys handling labor law cases, and pursuing legal action.
At times, this will be the best approach for not only receiving fair compensation and recognition for the mistreatment you’ve undergone, but also for holding your employers and colleagues to account, and potentially rectifying the company culture, and reducing the likelihood that other people experience the same abuse you have, at the hands of the same individuals.
Of course, pursuing legal action is a pretty extreme solution, and should only be utilised in the most serious cases, where it is beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are being treated unjustly, and illegally, and in a way that cannot be productively resolved by other means.
#2 Keep your head down and do your work, while simultaneously beginning the process of planning and searching for a new job
It may be that you are not being particularly singled out, more than anyone else in the office, for mistreatment – and that the mistreatment you’re experiencing falls short of being a punishable offence under the law, or company regulations.
Sometimes, you may well just find yourself working in a hostile and negative environment, where everyone is essentially miserable and on edge, and where a culture of bullying prevails.
If you find yourself in this situation, it may well be the case that there is no specific course of action you can take that will dramatically improve the way you are treated in the office – or that will help to reform and correct the negative elements and dimensions present in the company culture, as a whole.
Therefore, in these cases, the best course of action may well be to keep your head down and do your work, while doing your best to avoid falling into the trap of office politics, backbiting, negativity, and all the rest.
At the same time as you’re keeping your head down and getting your work done, you should simultaneously begin the process of planning and searching for a new job. Polish up your CV, get in touch with recruiters, keep an eye on the job boards, reach out, and take whatever interviews come your way. You don’t owe a company your work and presence if that company is failing in its primary duty to provide a reasonable and respectful environment for its employees.
Often, in fact, this will be essentially the only course of action you can realistically take, and likely the best way of removing yourself from the negative situation in a hurry.
#3 Address the issue with the person who is disrespecting you, as it happens
Sometimes, you will have negative interactions with individuals who are simply ill-tempered, impolite, disrespectful, and who do a poor job of maintaining the proper degree of etiquette and decorum in the workplace.
If you feel like you’re being actively abused or disrespected by such an individual, you should address the issue with the person who’s disrespecting you, as it happens – rather than staying silent and trying to come back to it later.
Interrupt them, let them know – politely but firmly – that you don’t appreciate the behaviour and don’t intend to put up with it, and then do what you can to hold them to account. If other people are present, and if you conduct yourself properly, and take the high road, this may well nip the issue in the bud, land you an apology, and draw the attention of the rest of the office to the poor behaviour of the individual in question.
Of course, the extent to which you should “pick a fight” over a given slight will depend on the specific situation. It’s certainly possible to overreact and make a mountain out of a molehill. But there is no virtue in allowing yourself to be abused, and to make a molehill out of a mountain, instead.
#4 Document the issue and go to HR with it
If there’s a pattern of mistreatment and disrespect that you’ve been facing in the workplace – and particularly if it’s been coming from a specific individual or group of individuals, you should begin by pushing back directly. If the behaviour doesn’t improve but ends up becoming a pattern, you should document the issue systematically – including keeping written evidence if it’s available.
Then, when you have collected several instances of the wrongdoing, go to the company’s HR department with it, file a formal complaint, and see whether or not the issue may be resolved through the company’s own internal processes and hierarchy.
Unless the company you’re working for has a particularly negative in-house culture, they will often be quick to try and resolve such issues, as much to forestall any potential future legal ramifications, is to maintain a healthy and productive office environment.
When reporting the issue, you should be firm, direct, and precise in the details you give. But, you should also attempt to remain calm and to avoid venting or ranting excessively.
Simply lay out the particular issue you’ve been experiencing, make it clear that you’re not willing to tolerate it, and ask what action will be taken to rectify it.