How to deal with office bullying

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Research has shown that one in ten office workers experience office bullying – a figure that has doubled in the last decade. AAT member Caroline Smith shares her experience of this taboo subject.

‘Just a minute, aren’t you coming with us?’ a friend asked.  The penny had finally dropped.  There were four of us that worked together and a day trip to London had been organised with a train ticket for four people.  However, it was never intended that I would be in the original line-up as the day had been organised by my long-standing foe.

At the time, I was in my first proper job so when I had started working there I wasn’t feeling particularly confident, although I had tried to give the impression that I was.  The battle lines had probably been drawn the first day I walked in.

You see I was young, I was single at the time and I was earning a little bit of money.  It was only a little bit of money as well, but it was a little bit more than my office nemesis and without a family of my own, I had a reasonable freedom to spend it as I wished.  Worse than this, justification for hate at first sight was cemented by the fact that I lived in what my antagonist deemed to be a ‘posh’ area.

It is fair to say that from the beginning the odds were stacked against me.  What followed was five years of general nastiness.  Every opportunity was taken to goad me about how I was a snob, how I earned too much money for my job and how I didn’t have a boyfriend or, later on, how I did have a boyfriend. She couldn’t make up her mind.

Best of all, if I did manage to make a mistake she had a wonderful excuse to point it out to the boss.  In fact, one day he did say ‘don’t worry about what she’s saying about you – we all know what she’s like’.  Well, I didn’t know what she was saying about me on that particular day, but it must have been bad for my line manager to mention it.

By this time I was engaged and I was more irritated by her constant reminders of how many people she knew had spent thousands on their weddings only to divorce within a few years, and how this could so easily happen to me.  True enough, perhaps, but inappropriate to keep saying it, and saying it with such a smug smile (for the record, we’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary this year).

My response was to rise above it and do my best to ignore it and dismiss it as the childish jealousy it was. Hard to do when someone is making a big display of not talking to you.  I thought that I just had to put up with this as everyone was bound to take her side anyway.  In this belief though, I was quite wrong.  In fact, I found support from others who had seen what was going on but, like me, were reluctant to bring attention to it.

Surprisingly it was my line manager who actually asked if I wanted him to do anything about the situation and he was the one who called it ‘bullying’.  Personally I thought that was a bit extreme, and it seemed draconian to take disciplinary action against something relatively minor.  I couldn’t see what it would achieve anyway.  More than anything I did not want to be seen to be ‘as bad as’.   However, instead of being what I hoped would be a shining example of ‘good’ behaviour I just left myself open to be more of a target as I was seen as weak.

Needless to say I didn’t join the trip to London as I diplomatically claimed I couldn’t go.  The whole experience though has left me with a great deal of empathy for anyone who has been bullied in any way whatsoever.  Whether you are the object of derision or the line manager who has to sort it out, bullying is notoriously difficult to deal with.

Here are some top tips if you do have to deal with an office bully:

•    Tell yourself that no-one has the right to bully you, no matter how you perform
•    You don’t have to resolve the situation yourself – your HR team should know how to handle the situation
•    Document the bullying, being specific about words, circumstances, times and dates
•    Steel yourself – you will need to be patient
•    Don’t start an email war – it might harm your chances of a successful resolution

Caroline Smith is a MAAT.

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