What can I do if I get bullied at work?


What can I do if I get bullied at work?

Bullying is a common occurrence in the work arena and a risk factor for anxiety, depression and suicide. I will mention one definition of bullying behavior for better understanding: a persistent pattern of mistreatment, abuse or humiliation from others in the workplace that causes either physical or emotional harm.

In Austria, it is common to talk in general about “Mobbing” for bullying in groups by your peers or co-workers, “Bossing” means bullied by your supervisor and “Staffing” refers to being bullied by subordinates, which is a rare phenomenon – to resist to your captain (like mutiny on sea). If you experience bullying, you will recognize it as deeply embarrassing and bothersome. Nobody likes to be an outsider of a group, tackled by one or more bullies in front of others. Experiencing nobody trying to help or defend you - maybe for fear of getting involved or being the next target – hurts and damages your self-esteem. While there is no law against workplace bullying in Austria, employers do have a fiduciary duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees.

If you are new to a job or team, there is always a high risk of being bullied. It’s a complex group process, often unconscious and automatic, the perceived status and first impression play a huge role. New people are examined on how well they incorporate into the group. There are formal and informal rules in groups, which have a power structure and normal group behavior. The role of a leader and his/her attitude against bullying are essential in inhibiting possible negative group behavior.

The most effective way to stamp out bullying is to stop it before it starts. This means creating a strong, consistent approach to prevent inappropriate behavior from escalating, and a positive, respectful work culture where bullying is not tolerated. And while we often think about bullying as an individual issue, there are broader environmental factors - such as poor organizational culture and a lack of leadership – which are in fact the main drivers.

So to be very cautious, you can look for signs of a toxic workplace during your job search and analyze negative job-reviews of former employees. You can also ask tough questions about the company’s culture and values during the job interview and very importantly: listen to your gut. If you don’t have a good feeling, you should probably consider passing on this job opportunity.

It's important to take appropriate and early steps to handle bullying at work to support your well-being. If you feel you are being bullied at work, the first thing to do is to take inventory of any way you might be contributing to the challenging situation. You can ask your colleges for honest feedback and maybe rethink your own behavior. You can reinforce positive relationships with others in the office to avoid getting isolated.

Many individuals are afraid to speak up when they are being bullied. They might be concerned about what others will think, or the possible negative consequences of overacting. Bullying will not stop alone, so you need an action plan to address the concern.

In the beginning you can read up on conflict escalation and bullying to understand more about your bullies’ behavior and ways in which you can respond effectively. Many companies have specific policies covering bullying and harassment, sometimes there are also designated contact persons for support you can talk to.

If your effort to resolve bullying was not enough and it continues, then you might need to discuss it with your manager. Your focus should concentrate on how the bullies’ behavior is affecting your well-being and productivity. To outline your negative experience you can use a diary of every incident that happened.

If you have done all you can to eliminate the bullying but it's still occurring, then it might be time to explore other options. Consider opportunities in other departments or with a new company altogether.

Remember you can try your best to get out of a bullying situation, but it’s your firm’s responsibility to respond to the needs of their employees in order to create a positive work environment. If you cannot stop worrying, have sleepless nights ruminating and your personal wellbeing is impacted, don’t hesitate to seek professional support.


About Dr. Andreas Fida-Taumer

I am a psychologist working in a psychological counselling service of the public administration of Vienna. Our mission is to help employees and employers who are confronted with conflicts, bullying or discrimination at work. We support to find a constructive solution by individual counselling or by mediating between conflict partners. My colleagues and me perform sensibility workshops for prevention and a better working climate.

I also run a psychological office in the 6. district and since 2018 I offer online counselling. My main topics are workplace worries, stress, burnout and depression. Online counselling is a flexible way to get help from an expert, it can be used anonymously, and you can use it easily from anywhere from your Phone, tablet or PC. The clients can decide between text chat, which is mainly demanded, and audio or video chat.

As a clinical psychologist I offer a variety of established interventions and methods. I prefer the cognitive behavioral approach, in special the acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) with a mindfulness background and the use of relaxation and meditation.