Bullying isn’t a one off event, so by the time you feel ready to report a bully, the chances are that you have been dealing with the impact for some time. As someone who’s been through it myself, here are my recommended steps to take when you find yourself in this position.
1) Make self care your highest priority
If this has been going on for a while, you’re probably already at an emotional low. Maybe you’ve adopted some unhealthy habits as coping mechanisms. I certainly ate more than my share of emotions, and drank more wine than was good for me. Perhaps you’re smoking or even turning to drugs. Your sleep is probably disrupted, and you may be suffering from a range of physical ailments, reflecting the stress you are under. Be honest with yourself about your own behaviour as a reaction to this situation.
You know what I’m going to say. Those coping mechanisms that you’ve chosen so far don’t help. Find stress management techniques that work for you, whether that is meditation, mindfulness, yoga, high energy exercise classes, or simply walking in nature every day. For me, my dogs made sure I went out every day, and it was also the time that horses came back into my life (more about that later). Make healthy food choices. Seek help from your doctor if you feel anxious or depressed.
Surround yourself by positive people who offer you love and support – and don’t let you dwell and obsess on what is happening. Bullying is not your fault, and in order to stay strong through this experience, recognise that this behaviour is simply another means of bullying yourself. Maybe you think that you deserve it for being so weak in the first place. Well, I’m telling you right here, right now, that you are wrong. So, the greatest thing you can do is to take care of yourself. It has to be your highest priority to adopt healthy habits for the mind, body and spirit.
2) Speak up and ask for help with your emotional wellbeing
Whatever path you decide to take, you need to be strong enough to cope with what comes next. You may have already confided in a trusted work colleague, or spoken to friends and family. That’s great, but they may not have any experience and however well meaning, may not give you the advice that you need. Even if they do, you might not listen to them!
Speak to your doctor if you think you might be depressed or anxious. You might also benefit from counselling or coaching. Find someone who can help you with your emotional awareness and personal resilience, and has experience of working with people who have been bullied. Although your performance at work is likely to have been affected, this isn’t a time for performance coaching because that doesn’t deal with the underlying issue.
3) Do your research
You need to understand whether or not you really are being bullied, so research some of the descriptions of bullying. There are many websites that offer information – examples include BullyOnline; Bullies Out; ACAS; NHS Choices. You’ll soon discover that it’s really not clear cut at all, which means that it is notoriously difficult to prove.
You will find numerous different definitions and examples, but just use your research to help you be sure about what bullying behaviour does look like, and that will help you to record it accurately. Some behaviours are physical, but more often now, they are psychological, which can make them much harder to articulate.
4) Keep records – a factual diary and a journal for your emotions
It’s really important to keep a diary of what happened and when, and how you responded, particularly if there were witnesses. This needs to be a factual record, and although it can also include a description of how it made you feel at the time, try not to be overly emotional in your approach. The purpose of this is to help you articulate your case if you decide to report the bullying. In my experience, it’s important to gather as much evidence as possible before you report anything, because behaviours will inevitably change after that point.
However, if you want to have an outburst about what has happened, then keep a separate journal that allows you to release all of the emotion onto paper. This can be quite a therapeutic process too. Whether you choose a journal, poetry, song lyrics, or art work, it’s all a way of honestly and creatively expressing your feelings so that it doesn’t cloud the facts needed when reporting the bullying.
5) Understand what the process involves if you decide to report this
Check out what procedures your employer has in place if you decide to report this. Get copies of policies such as dealing with Bullying & Harassment, Health and Safety, and the Code of Conduct. The advice is always to try and deal with the matter informally first (I personally dispute that anything in a workplace should be considered informal…). If possible, they say, confront the bully, as sometimes they are not aware of what they are doing until somebody tells them. In reality, it’s easier said than done, and often doesn’t work anyway because the relationship by its very nature has already broken down. The only thing that you need to know is that this is an option, not a compulsory part of the process.
The next step is usually the grievance procedure, and it’s always worth speaking to your HR department to get advice before starting this route. They should also advise you about any Employee Assistance Programmes, and may make a referral to Occupational Health.
It’s also worth speaking to a specialist solicitor too, either one who deals in Employment Law or a Stress at Work expert.
6) Choose the route that is right for YOU
Once you have all of the information, you have to make the decision that works for you. You’ll find that there are many people who will offer you an opinion and advice about what to do, but at the end of the day, it’s your decision. I decided to stay and fight. In my head, it wasn’t just for me, but to make sure that this never happened to anyone else again. It had a truly detrimental effect on my physical and mental health, and in the end, I didn’t have the strength to continue.
The sad truth is that the real impact of bullying at work is not yet acknowledged. Many people choose to walk away, so the employer is none the wiser. People who do report bullying often end up ill, and end up leaving through illness, or settlement agreements. The alleged bullies often keep their jobs, making it difficult for the bullied person to stay at the organisation, even in a different role.
7) Accept that people might have a fear of being seen to support you
Here’s the truth: you’re going to feel like you’re completely on your own.
Colleagues may start by being supportive, but when it comes down to speaking up publicly, or standing by you during meetings, they’ll fall away. Please don’t blame them for this. They have rent and mortgages to pay; families to feed and clothe; they enjoy their job; they have many friends at work. They are fearful of losing their income and security. It’s not about you. They’re just taking care of themselves.
You also have to realise that no one else will have the same relationship with the bully (unless there are a group of you affected). They won’t understand how it’s impacting on you. I know that my behaviour at work changed, and the more people told me to “let it go” or “walk away” (usually for the sake of my health), the more I pushed them away and therefore helped to perpetuate my own feeling of isolation. Walking into my appeal meeting alone was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
8) Let go of the need for justice
One of the most common factors following a bullying experience is the feeling that justice has not been done. This sometimes manifests itself as anger, and a further desire for revenge; for the bully to feel the pain that you have been through, to mirror their behaviour back to them.
The main problem with this is that it really only happens in the mind of the bullied, and often involves reliving the experiences again and again, imagining what you could have done differently to reach a different outcome. The mind does not distinguish between real and imagined or visualised events, so it continues to evoke a stress response, which will delay recovery from the experience.
You cannot change the past and it is important to work on acceptance of that fact. Even if you have taken a case through to the point where you received a financial settlement, the employer probably hasn’t admitted to the bullying allegations, and you’re unlikely to have received an apology.
Letting go can be the most difficult part, so don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help. For everyone else involved in a bullying case, it finishes when the final paperwork is drawn up. For the bullied, it continues long afterwards. This is true for every person that I have worked with so far.
It’s important to find a release that works for you. I discovered horses again, and the power of equine facilitated coaching to help me recognise how stuck I was, living in the past, and stopping myself from seeing any kind of future. Find the right support for you that will help to rebuild your emotional resilience and relationship with yourself, and you too will be strong again.
This is one of a series of articles by Nicki Eyre about the impact of bullying. Nicki Eyre is a Transformational Coach based in Harrogate covering Harrogate, Leeds and York offering support programmes for businesses and individuals to increase self-awareness and emotional resilience. She supports businesses to prevent bullying, as well as individuals struggling to cope with bullying, during and after the experience.
Contact Nicki for a confidential discussion about your experience: