What Can You Do If You’re Worried About Workplace Bullying?
Bullying is not just something that happens in the playground and stops once we leave school. It can exist at all stages of life and has been identified as a serious problem in the workplace. The legal profession tends to be conservative and both the partnership model and the emphasis on billable hours can lead to a culture of competition and pressure in which bullying can thrive.
It is likely that at some point in your career as a lawyer you may come across a bully – whether it is one of your own colleagues or a solicitor, barrister, or judge you are dealing with.
What counts as bullying varies, but it is generally accepted that what matters is how the behaviour is perceived by the victim. Examples of bullying include: overt actions such as being isolated (for example, “being sent to Coventry”); being shouted out; name-calling; being unfairly blamed or criticised, as well as more covert actions such as being excessively monitored or being given an unmanageable workload. Bullying tends to be recurrent rather than being a one-off event.
Bullying can lead to a loss of confidence, anxiety and low mood and it can have an impact on both work and home life. Although bullies often prey on the weak and vulnerable they may also target colleagues who they see as successful, competent and popular and they may intensify their behaviour if their victim is initially resistant or impervious to their attempts.
What can you do if you are the target of bullying?
• Remain calm – the bully wants to provoke a reaction and so try to resist the temptation to scream, yell or fight back as this may lead to the situation escalating. Where possible, try to talk to the perpetrator explaining what they have done and how this has affected you. Ask for the behaviour to be stopped and outline what you plan to do if is not e.g. “I will speak to my line manager if you continue with this conduct”.
• Keep a diary or record of all incidents (no matter how trivial they may seem) as well as copies of any documents e.g. emails. If there are any witnesses ask if they would be willing to write down an account of what they have observed.
• Report it – if the bullying persists speak to your line manager or HR and follow the relevant procedures for making a complaint/raising a grievance, particularly if your employer has an anti-bullying policy. You may also want to obtain some independent legal advice in relation to your rights and options.
• Build relationships with colleagues – when you are being bullied you can feel isolated or you may instinctively withdraw from interactions with others, however it is important to have a good social network both at work and home.
• Look after yourself – do things that you enjoy, practise relaxation techniques (e.g. yoga and meditation), get some exercise, connect with nature etc., as these are all things that can help to build resilience.
• Seek professional help – bullying can have a serious effect on both your physical and mental health and so you may wish to get advice from your GP or other healthcare professional. It may also be helpful to access talking therapies where you can speak in confidence in a safe, non-judgemental environment.
Bullying can make life very unpleasant at work and in some circumstances you may feel that you have no option other than to resign. However this should be seen as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted.