This week, on Good Morning America, a feature segment ran about Bullying In the Workplace. The forums on the GMA website, where viewers can post comments about the show’s topic. There was an overwhelming response to the Bullying segment. So much response, in fact, that Tory Johnson, GMA’s Workplace Contributor, was invited back the next day to continue the discussion.
On Tuesday, the topic focused on how to spot a bully at work. On Wednesday, the discussion was aimed on how to handle a bully if you are being targeted. Both episodes were spot on. One of the best points I heard Ms. Johnson make was:
Document, document, document.
On Wednesday’s episode, Tory Johnson talked about documentation of the bullying as a survival strategy. Of course, in the world of the employment lawyer, nothing could be more true. One reason documentation can be so important is for your mental health. When you are on the receiving end of workplace bullying, you are likely to experience a great deal of self-doubt.
Bullying usually comes in passive-agressive forms. A roll of the eyes, a deep sigh, a whispered comment, or a mumbled expression of exasperation can all seem very normal when taken in isolation. Sure, most of us occassionally give in to the daily frustrations and take those feelings out on our co-workers and colleagues.
That’s why it’s not uncommon for targets of bullying to get push-back if they do report the behavior. Likely, they’ll get a response of, “Oh, that’s just her personality,” or, “He didn’t mean it, he was having a really tough day,” or, my personal favorite, “She’s like that with everyone.”****
Why don’t HR professionals and managers seem so determined not to believe that there is bullying on in their working environment? Because they’re people. People don’t like to get involved in personality conflicts. Inevitably, the manager will be on the “bad side” of at least one of the fighting employees. And let’s face it, nobody likes to be unpopular.
Documentation helps with both problems. First, by having a written record of the conduct, you won’t question yourself about the validity of your feelings. When it’s all set out on paper with dates and details, that chronology makes it clear that it is not just a series of isolated incidents, but a regular barrage of assaultive conduct.
Second, that documented chronology will force superiors to see the same picture that you’ve been seeing. To say to a manager, “Sarah is hurting my feelings,” might be effective–but it’s highly unlikely. But what if you said to that same manager, “Sarah has spent the last several weeks making inappropriate comments directed towards me. She has also spread untrue rumors to my co-workers about me, which has negatively affected my professional reputation. (Or, how about, “defamatory” instead of untrue?! Even better!!) When your manager wants examples of that behavior, you’ll have them.
And if the manager still doesn’t bite, that’s ok. Keep documenting. If for no other reason but to prevent that question, “Am I just being oversensitive?”
[****A sidenote on that last one: Employers, please, please, please, do not EVER use this as an “excuse” for an employee’s socially unacceptable behavior. If you would not want the comment made to your mother or to your spouse, then it should not be said in the workplace. Although it sure can feel like it sometimes, the workplace is NOT a battle zone. Save your combat gear for that Nintendo Wii.]