Workplace Bullies at work use tactics like these:
1. Phony Performance Improvement Plans or “PIPS.”
Bully managers use these for set ups to harass you. The “plan” is not to improve your performance through training, resources, and availability for guidance, but to push you out the door. How can you recognize a phony PIP? The workplace bully will construct a performance plan that:
a) is vague, based on subjective assessments that cannot be verified;
b) is specific but with incomplete or false details to create the maximum negative impression of your work;
c) sets unrealistic, perhaps patently impossible deadlines for your achievement of stated objectives.
d) fails to follow through with the agreed manager actions to acknowledge improvement, or provide feedback.
e) Is entirely negative or at least over-weighted with criticisms, while ignoring your progress.
f) Issuing directives, then denying those directives, and accusing you of failing to follow new unspecified directives.
g) Raises criticisms of events that occurred long ago, and that were dismissed at the time as trivial or of no impact.
h) Related to the resurrected and forgotten criticisms, you are suddenly confronted with a long list of secretly catalogued criticisms that first appear in the PIP.
i) If you challenge the PIP, the manager refuses to modify the PIP even in the face of proof that he or she made a false statement of fact.
2. The workplace bully blames you in open meetings of your peers, and even on occasion the target of yelling.
3.The workplace bully excludes you from key meetings, and denied timely information on project within your responsibility.
4. The workplace bully denies you training and travel opportunities accorded other employees.
5. The workplace bully increases the frequency and harshness of criticisms increases dramatically. There seems to be a microscope placed to your work to find anything that can be used to confront you with your supposed incompetency.
6. The workplace bully gives little or no flexibility for personal needs, such a predictable schedule, childcare, medical appointments, or vacation scheduling. Work assignments are often given at the last minute requiring later hours and weekends.
7. The workplace bully uses the whole range of hostile distancing can take place: frowning and scowling, rolling of eyes, raised voice, interruptions, walking away mid-conversation, slammed doors, throwing work papers or books on a desk, jabbing or poking of fingers, cursing and angry outbursts, and the basic loss of civilities like “good morning,” “please,” and “thank you.”
Counter-tactics to fight back against the workplace bully.
1. Bring in reinforcements. These can be off-site friends and family who will provide a sounding board for the grief, anger, and helplessness you may be feeling.
2. God. Or Higher Power, or Nature, or whatever form you connect with your spiritual life. It helps to know there are vastly greater powers than your workplace bully manager.
3. Lawyers. Yes, finding the right employment lawyer before you are emotionally destroyed can empower you with information about your rights and how to assert them productively while still at work.
4. Positive, emotionally healthy managers who can guide you confidentially with ideas about how to deal with the bully.
5. Human Resources. I state this resource with reservation however, maybe because I see many instances in my work as an employee rights lawyer when Human Resources says the right things and does nothing constructive. In fact, to the extent they continue to allow the bullyism, they are part of the problem.
6. Professional psychotherapeutic help.
7. Return to the basics: rest, exercise, and diet. Cut down on caffeine, walk or even run further and more ofen, reduce sugars and fats, and increase vegetables. Go to bed at a regular hour, and wind down your day gradually with a predictable pattern as you get ready for bed. Sleep is your most restorative activity.
8. Have a plan to transfer out of the bully’s control, or to find new employment with a better work environment. Do something daily, however small to advance the plan. It will provide a feeling of power, and give hope.
9. Confront the bully with calm resistance to the abuse. Say in effect: Your behavior is abusive. It is not acceptable. I will take action against it if it recurs, including reporting it to your managers and human resources.
10. Keep a record of the abuses. Harassment is proven by a) documenting the frequency and severity of the abuse and b) that you reported it in accordance with the company’s complaint process.
Workplace bullies continue their abusive behavior because they are allowed to abuse. This may be because they hold positions of authority, have political power, or are so wealthy others will put up with their cruelty. Most workplace organizations have anti-harassment policies and state required procedures for making an internal complaint of harassment, but many do not follow those corrective policies. To the contrary, I see cases everday when a complaint results in retaliation by the workplace bully. If you make this complaint, make it in writing, seek commitments of response time and updates on the progress of any investigation, and demand assurances that there will be no retaliation because of your complaint. Document management’s failures with the same energy the bully uses against you. But document also your interactions with Human Resources, and the dates of action or inaction on their part.
You are ultimately responsible for your situation. You may not have sought out a hostile work environment, but you do have the power to take action to stop the abuse through the internal complaint process, or by leaving the employment for a better environment. If it advances your dignity and sense of worth, you also have the option to seek damages for the resulting injustice you endured. Legal action may be the wake-up call the Company needs to end its indifference to the workplace bully’s conduct.