October is National Bulling Prevention Month. It’s important to raise awareness of this important topic because studies show that 75% of employees report being the target of workplace bullying.

In fact, I’m one of them. My experience occurred when I was working for a large corporation. Our team had a new leader who was making drastic changes and his communication style was full of sarcasm.

My team reported that they felt intimidated, mocked and demeaned during their interactions with him. My peers started expressing those same concerns.

I am comfortable with hard conversations, so one evening I asked if I could have a moment of his time. I expressed my concerns that his recommendations weren’t well received because of his communication style, and that some of our top performers were no longer as productive because of their confusion and concern over some of his new approaches.

He thanked me for my insight, adding that he appreciated input from the ground level.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the anger behind his smile. After that conversation, my team informed me that this new leader was engaged in the following behaviors: undermining my plans and directions, calling me names behind my back, telling me one thing and my team another, and criticizing my work to employees and visitors.

So, why is this considered “bullying” and not just “bad” behavior?

There was a difference in power. This individual was my boss and, therefore, had more power. However, a bully’s power doesn’t always have to be hierarchical; it can also stem from a difference knowledge, seniority, relationships, etc. In fact, most bullying occurs peer to peer.

It was targeted. I was the target of his behavior after I shared input from my team. Workplace bullies typically target those who have characteristics or strengths that they themselves are lacking. I speculate that I was targeted because I had the courage to have a difficult conversation and because I had developed strong relationships with my team members, and they felt comfortable confiding in me.

It was repeated. Bullying is characterized as repeated acts of behavior, unless a single event is so egregious that causes lasting psychological harm. This leader’s behavior was ongoing—for days, weeks, and eventually months.

It was tolerated. While I attempted to seek out assistance from various leaders above him, my bully’s behavior continued, in part, because it occurred during a time of leadership transition and his direct leader allowed it.

In a few short months, I had gone from being a top performer who was likely to advance two or more positions, to someone who had decided to leave her job, as many who are bullied do.

What can you and your organization do to stop workplace bullying and recover successfully?

  • Everyone must work together to stop it—from top leaders on down.
  • If you’re the target of bullying or if you witness bullying, call out the behavior. If you feel safe, tell the person that their behavior is not welcome. Be sure to do this in a polite, respectful manner so you’re not perceived as a bully yourself.
  • Document the bullying. This may be necessary should an investigation take place.
  • Contact human resources, leadership, employee hotlines and employee assistance programs (EAP) for assistance.
  • If the bully is a leader, go above them.
  • Partner with your EAP for help in managing the emotions associated with workplace bullying.
  • Take time to de-stress after work.
  • Practice self-care by eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep and engaging in activities you enjoy.

For more information about workplace bullying, register here for our upcoming webinar, Wednesday, October 16, noon EDT.