In Part I, we explored various definitions of and reasons why bullying happens at work. In Part II, you are presented with options along with reminders tips if you are being bullied at work.
Bullied At Work: Your Options
Here are some options you can consider if you are bullied at work. There is no one-solution fits all. Clearly, your decision to deal with bullying depends on your physical and mental health, as well as your level of self-confidence.
While you cannot control another person’s behaviors, you can control the manner in which you respond. Here are some considerations as you decide how to move forward:
Challenge your bully – it may be uncomfortable, especially if you like to avoid conflict, but it is a chance to let the bully know you are on to him (or her). It is also a chance, given you are alone in a conference room, to ask them what they hope to accomplish by bullying you. Make them articulate the answer.
Documentation – it can be tricky to gather hard evidence if you are bullied at work. On the surface, emails and verbal comments may seem innocuous to outsiders. My suggestions if you want to start a paper trail: 1) summarize each individual meeting, conversation or interaction with the perpetrator, 2) send these summaries to all who were present, 3) request any objections to your summary be emailed back to you, 4) repeat until everyone has concurred. This could be timely but worthy if you are trying to gather evidence.
Direct management – do you trust your immediate manager enough to voice your concerns? If so, voice them cautiously. From the manager’s perspective, you may come across as whiney or entitled. The last thing a manager wants is to diffuse a personality conflict among employees. Therefore, your direct management may do what it takes to make this go away; be prepared to not like the response.
Indirect management – do you dare go above your immediate manager and voice your concerns to upper management? If your direct supervision is part of the problem … then, perhaps the answer is yes. Again, do so cautiously. Chances are that upper management does not want to hear about personality problems with subordinates. In their minds, they don’t get paid to perform conflict resolution. Prepare yourself for undesirable outcomes.
Colleagues, friends, family – perhaps venting is okay once or twice, but put yourself in their shoes. When you consistently vent that you are bullied at work, yet you do not help the issue, you will turn people off. They will stop listening or avoid you. Take precaution if opening up to colleagues! You never know who they rub elbows with when you are not around, and your complaints could backfire.
Bring a business case to HR – if you think HR is the route for you, listen up. Document and calculate dollars lost due to the bullying. For example, how much time are you not working during the day due to the bullying? How much time is the bully not working due to the bullying? Tally your sick days and doctor visits. Which projects or assignments have been late due to your distress? Chances are, walking into an HR office with a list of complaints won’t get their attention. However, providing a list of estimated dollars lost makes for a stronger case.
*As an aside, I happen to think it is ludicrous for any HR office to turn a blind eye to bullying complaints. It is tragic if they show no empathy for your human feelings; dollars lost should be a trivial matter.
Legal counsel – if this is the route for you, then prepare to pay. You will pay with your time and your money. I caution you to not get attached to a positive outcome. Lawyers are not magicians. Sometimes, all the money in the world cannot buy the outcome you’d like.
Therapy – per psychologytoday.com, the definition of therapy is: Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy or usually just “therapy,” is a form of treatment aimed at relieving emotional distress and mental health problems. Provided by any of a variety of trained professionals—psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or licensed counselors—it involves examining and gaining insight into life choices and difficulties faced by individuals, couples, or families.
Quit – and hope your next work environment is friendly.
Life Coach – what I teach as a life coach is a critical meta skill that can be applied to any area of your life. It is the skill of recognizing and reframing your thoughts/beliefs to a manageable state for a healthy, coherent life. In other words, I teach you the art of adapting your brain’s beliefs to life circumstances, which liberates you from futile attempts to seek out the ‘right’ situations.
We go to work because it provides a living: salary, benefits, retirement, promotions, etc. However, if these are the end goals of your career, you may be missing the whole point. While these features are wonderful, they are merely byproducts, or results, of your career. They are not the purpose of your work.
The purpose of your career is:
Service: contribution toward something greater than you as an individual … for the sake of serving
Development: evolve your skills and progress your character by defeating obstacles and challenges
Legacy: manipulate your authentic skills to impact a job/company and leave it in a better position than when you started
Having stated this, everyone’s challenge is to fulfill this career purpose despite circumstances, despite negativity, despite bullies.
There is something magical about showing up, serving, performing your best, and rising above the attacks. But, this requires stamina, courage and high self-confidence.
If you are bullied at work and it’s overwhelming and you fear for your well being, take action to stop the bleeding. Careers are fluid and unpredictable, your health is priceless.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, more than 60 million working people in the United States are affected by bullying.
About 70 percent of bullies are male, and about 30 percent are female. Both male and female bullies are more likely to target women. Sixty-one percent of bullying comes from bosses or supervisors. Thirty-three percent comes from co-workers (see healthline.com article).
Bullying is different from harassment, because harassment implies an offense that occurred against a protected class of people. There are no laws against workplace bullying in the United States.
Workplace bullying can be tricky to define, as it spans many overt and indescribable activities. It is also subjective, which makes bullying more difficult to prove.
According to healthline.com, workplace bullying shows itself in different ways:
Verbal – This could include mockery, humiliation, jokes, gossip, or other spoken abuse.
Intimidating – This might include threats, social exclusion in the workplace, spying, or other invasions of privacy.
Related to work performance – Examples include wrongful blame, work sabotage or interference, or stealing or taking credit for ideas.
Retaliatory – In some cases, talking about the bullying can lead to accusations of lying, further exclusion, refused promotions, or other retaliation.
Institutional – Institutional bullying happens when a workplace accepts, allows, and even encourages bullying to take place. This bullying might include unrealistic production goals, forced overtime, or singling out those who can’t keep up.
Follow-up examples include:
targeted practical jokes
being purposely misled about work duties, like incorrect deadlines or unclear directions
continued denial of requests for time off without an appropriate or valid reason
threats, humiliation, and other verbal abuse
excessive performance monitoring
overly harsh or unjust criticism
My favorite workplace bullying definition is quoted in this monster.com article: “Workplace bullying is psychological violence.”
How do Bullies Get Away With It?
Per this article from themuse.com, bullies are often high performers. They might be a top salesperson who brings in huge deals worth millions. Whatever it is, they’re bringing value to the company, which means the company has an incentive to keep them onboard (and happy).
Some bullies also work to ingratiate themselves to their superiors (and perhaps their peers, too). Doing so as they abuse one or more of the folks they oversee or work with. Put all that together, and instead of being held accountable for their bullying behavior, they might be getting rewarded with praise, raises, or promotions. And you might be all the more intimidated by the prospect of casting a shadow on such a star.
The reality is that most bullying situations (77% according to WBI’s survey) end in the target leaving their job, whether because they got fed up and quit or they ended up getting fired.
What bullies have in common, whether on the playground or in the workplace, is insecurity. All forms of bullying originate from internal insecurities. When bullies refuse to accept or fix their insecurities, they are driven to overcompensate by treating others terribly.
Because, after all, if you look bad at work, it makes those around you look good.
Workplace bullying is real, it’s prevalent (whether COVID or not), and it can have deleterious effects on the target. Part II explores what your options may look like if you are the unfair target of workplace bullying.
Of course you are searching for your dream job! That’s what we do in our culture. You grew up in a world that rewards you with a dream job in exchange for that rigorous college degree. Almost as if you are entitled.
Off to the Races
To your dismay, that dream job has been elusive during your 5-, 10-, or 20-year career. Where the heck is it, you wonder, and how do I find it? You’ve realized that job hopping only lasts so long. Unfortunately, you’ve also realized that you cannot assess a job until you live it.
You are meticulous about picking apart job descriptions. And you are an expert at eliminating jobs that don’t sound perfect. You ask great questions in your interviews. Informational interviews are standard practice. Of course, you always insist on meeting your new prospective boss before accepting a new job.
You’re doing all the right things. Yet, here you are, begrudgingly searching for your dream job. The perfect one that offers reasonable challenges, superb benefits, and a stellar team with true leadership. Whatever your definition, you’re not finding it. And it is a maddening race you cannot win.
Professional Scavenger Hunt
The myriad counselors, advisors, teachers, and professors have tried their best to guide you. It is not their fault that, after all this time, you are still searching for your dream job. Nor is it your fault. You can only act based on the information at hand.
The missing piece is that you attract what you are, not what you want. If you want great, be great.
If you are unsettled, if you are wishy-washy, if you are uncertain, that is the kind of job (and career) you will attract. Accepting a job with hope, wishful thinking, or high expectations is a surefire way to set yourself up for disappointment. For example, if you resentfully go to work, your work and your output will be resentful. If you force yourself to go to work, your work and your output will be forced.
However, the flip side is also true. If you are proud, confident, or happy before you accept your new job, then the job will follow accordingly. The point is that dream jobs are not something to be found, as if they are part of a professional scavenger hunt. Dream jobs don’t hang around awaiting the perfect person to whisk them away akin to a fairy tale ending.
Dream jobs are created. They are created by people who are great within themselves. Great cannot be found out there in the external world; it is something you foster within your being. The secret to a dream job is to nurture this great relationship with yourself first. Alas, paving the way for you to create your dream job.
Dream jobs are created by you, they are not out there to be found.
As you grapple with thoughts such as, “I’m not sure what I should do next”, or “I want a new job,” you may have considered hiring a career coach or a life coach. I will explain the main differences between my work as a life coach vs career coaching so you can decide which is best for your situation.
What is Life Coaching?
My function as an engineering life coach is to help professionals conduct a root cause analysis on their lives. I coach engineers through tough issues whether in the form of layoffs, career dissatisfaction, burnout, or simply feeling lost. Let’s dive into the two types of coaching so you can decide which is best for your situation.
The Life Coaching process is strategic and cognitive. It is applicable to you if you tell yourself:
I don’t know if I should go back to school, get a new job, get another cert, or start my own biz
I wish I weren’t so stressed all the time
I don’t have enough time for everything
As a life coach, I help you get to the root of your issues and problems so you can 1) understand their origin, 2) reframe your situation to a manageable state, 3) decide how to cognitively resolve your problems.
What is Career Coaching?
The Career Coaching process is tactical and operational. It is applicable to you if you tell yourself
I want to move to ABC location and find a job there
I want XYZ job title with a specific pool of companies
I would like help with my interviewing/negotiating skills
I’d like someone to hold me accountable in my job search
I’m quite sure I know which jobs I will pursue next
I’ve dominated my current position and therefore I’m ready to leave
I need someone to help me with my resume
I’d like someone to tell me what I need to do to secure a job
I want help with strengths-finders test results
A career coach is more appropriate for you if your goal is to be matched to your desired job, industry, or company.
The below is a comparison of the main differences between each type of coach.
A Career Coach Offers Tactical Steps Towards the Search for a Job
A Life Coach Offers Strategic Steps Towards the Search for Yourself
Refine your resume
Refine your mentality
External job search
Connect with industry
Connect with yourself
Plan your next career move
Plan your next life move
Negotiation and interview skills
Self-Confidence and emotional intelligence skills
Acts as accountability partner
Offers advice, suggestions, tips
Does not offer advice; leads you to discover answers for yourself
Matches you to an external (dream) job
Helps you create an internal dream life
Life Coach vs Career Coach
Last, I will state that as a life coach, the skills I teach are meta – they are applicable to any area of your life. Essentially, you learn the meta skill of emotional problem-solving and self-awareness, despite prevailing circumstances.
There certainly can be some overlap between life coach vs career coach. This blog explains the high level differences between the two. If you are interested in free life coaching to help with unresolved issues in your life, send me a note. Let’s chat!
There comes a time when you must admit you cannot figure something out – yes you! Will you persist and continue to try on your own, will you give up or will you ask for help? It’s a basic premise, but I encourage you to open yourself up to being coached by others.
You Decide: are you Coachable?
Are you coachable and why does it matter? I’ve seen unnecessary competition between colleagues in the office or on the shop floor. People who resist others’ suggestions or advice may feel threatened or inadequate. If you are willing to listen, to receive suggestions and to be wrong, then you are coachable.
I challenge you to think about recent struggles and your willingness to face personal deficiencies. This vulnerable willingness allows you to accept the fact that others have knowledge you don’t. A coachable person is comfortable leaning on others and hearing multiple perspectives. As a result, coachable people gain wisdom and further their own knowledge base.
A Snapshot of Coaching
If you are open to being coached, here is a small taste of what it looks like. First, talk less and listen more. Second, own your mistakes and errors. It happens to everybody, but when you shy away or point fingers, you exacerbate your problem and appear foolish. It is not difficult to state that you messed up, you made a mistake and that it won’t happen again. Last, self-awareness plays a key role in your ability to be coached (see Post #03).
Self-awareness is the ability to be cognitively present in the moment and recognize your interpretations of the world around you. It is a skill that enables you to acknowledge and deliberately choose your thoughts and reactions.
In conclusion, your ability to be coached by others will help propel your professional and personal well-being. Are you comfortable admitting you don’t have all the answers – are you coachable?
Do you embrace information without question, OR do you tend to think independently? I will talk about the differences and you can determine how these apply to your life.
Living a Programmed Life
Imagine the last time you openly challenged a theory, a boss or a customer. Our society, at times, does not advocate that you challenge status quo. You tend to conform to the norm when you don’t ask questions or perform your own investigations. When this happens, you are believing information as is or perhaps you don’t have time to verify. You probably like to be efficient, and right or wrong, it’s efficient to believe what you are told. It’s not efficient to question information that many embrace without the blink of an eye.
For example, have you ever questioned processes, policies or feedback at work? How about your faith or religious beliefs? Or marriage and the idea of rearing kids? And what about your financial dealings, such as 401ks, IRAs and other investments?
The point here is that you have full control over your personal actions and beliefs. How often do you make decisions based on your own interpretation of knowledge? You run the risk of living by default when consistently conforming to ideas, customs and norms without question.
Think for Yourself
In contrast, an independent thinker tends to make deliberate, conscious decisions. And an independent thinker acknowledge their reasons for making such choices. If you think on your own behalf, you tend to question ideas, practices and status quo. This is not an easy practice because others generally don’t like to be challenged.
And I am not suggesting you question everything and everyone in your life (see Post #12). Rather, I challenge you to thoughtfully ponder ideas, principles and the lifestyle you live by. Have these been chosen for you or by you?
In conclusion, we fall between the two extremes of accepting all information at face value vs questioning status quo. Where do you stand?
No matter the job title, you will always be compelled to influence. Whether entry-level or executive professional, your power to influence comes down to the same thing. This knowledge is critical over the course of your career. The power to influence will no doubt be one of the most practical tools in your professional toolkit.
Does Influence Apply to You?
First, why is influence so important? On a high level, you obviously want your employees to act in a manner such that they accomplish their goals. Perhaps you’re in mid management, and you don’t have so much authority. As a mid-level manager, you request cooperation and many favors, thus, you deal with dynamic, shifting parts. When you own the power to influence, you avoid the hassles of begging and pleading, and you convey enthusiastic motivation.
As a junior or newer employee, your ability to influence is especially critical. The responsibility to learn your job rests on your shoulders (see Post #02). Learning your job requires cooperation from your colleagues. Therefore, your rate of success somewhat depends on the ability to influence others in your favor.
Next, how do you influence others, what does it take? It starts with an emotional assessment of yourself, my friends, and it requires work! You work to improve ALL the internal attributes that you can control within. Then, you lead by example when engaging with others. What I mean is: you must like yourself first before you expect others to like you; you must respect yourself first before you expect others to respect you.
Would you like others to listen to you – then, follow your own lead. Do you hope others will show positive attitudes – then, be positive. Would it be fantastic if your employees were efficiently and enthusiastically productive? Then YOU, as their leader, must first show you are efficiently and enthusiastically productive. Love yourself first and foremost. When you can learn the skills of self-love and self-respect, the power to influence falls into place.
Others will treat you based on the way they see you treating yourself. Teach others how you should be treated.
Some of us push perfectionism to the limit. We admire the way every object in the house has its assigned function and designated space. We don’t mind scrutinizing (or admiring) our work 10 times over just to be extra sure there are no mistakes. Others, however, are not-so-proud perfectionists. You may be familiar with triple and quadruple-checking our own work, and doing so from an uncomfortable feeling of fear. “What if something is incorrect or out of line?” you hauntingly wonder.
The Root Cause
Perfectionistic tendencies may look different for every person. However, the common denominator for perfectionists boils down to one thing: self-worth. Self-worth, or lack thereof, comes from fear – i.e., “What will they think of me … what if I’m wrong … is my work good enough, etc.” Fear is rooted in self-doubt and insecurity.
The more insecure you are with your existence, the more you want to prevent mistakes or answer for wrongdoings. As mentioned, the root cause of your perfectionism comes from a lack of self-worth. Your answers to these questions are indicative of your own self-worth: what do you think of you, how do you view your worth as a human?
Strive for Less than Perfect
The best way to mitigate perfectionism is to increase your self-worth. Imagine a world in which you are willing to embrace all feelings, positive and negative. Picture how your life would be different if you were comfortable with living an unapologetic, authentic life (see Post #18).
No lying, no masking your feelings and no shaming yourself for being less than perfect. This is a self-confidence skill that is available to you. It is a skill you can work toward building over time, similar to hiring a person trainer at the gym.
Perfectionism stems from fear; fear stems from self-doubt and insecurity; self-doubt and insecurity come from your self-worth. When your self-confidence is sky high, my friends, then you have your own back no matter what. When your self-security is drastically improved, can you see how the need for perfectionism dwindles?
Who is your mentor? If your answer is, “I don’t know”, or “this is a silly question” or “I don’t need a mentor,” this post is for you. Mentors are part of your support network, and everybody needs support. They serve a special function in your life despite your age, capabilities or experiences.
Mentors are Critical
Perhaps you have experienced multiple employers, holding various titles in many environments. Congratulations for having broadened your professional portfolio. Perhaps you are retiring tomorrow. Or, maybe you are reading this and it’s your first week on the job. Despite your vast array of experiences, or lack thereof, a trusted mentor is essential to your professional or personal wellbeing.
Mentors can offer differing views and alternate perspectives. They may not necessarily be smarter, wiser, or better educated. That’s okay, a mentor doesn’t have to have surpassed your accomplishments. The reason mentors are important is because they will offer questions and pose solutions under the purview of their own life experiences.
Open your Eyes
Your main decision-making tool is undoubtedly the own view of the world as you’ve experienced it. When allowing mentors to share their views, opinions, their successes and failures, you vicariously become educated through their lenses. Why does this matter? It matters because you are narrowly restricted to knowledge based on your limited experiences. Engaging with a mentor is like traveling to new places; your eyes will be open to possibilities you couldn’t have dreamt about (see Post #18).
So, who is your mentor and how are you going to find them? Whether you retire tomorrow or in 40 years, a mentor can help you stay grounded, motivated and open-minded. Open your eyes to others’ experiences and gain priceless knowledge!
The more you learn, the more you realize that which you don’t know.
Why do you do what you do, i.e., are you fulfilling your why? I dare you to write down your answers. Do your answers feel good? Perhaps they bring about genuine sadness … or a sense of longing for something more. Maybe your answers are superficial enough that you don’t recognize the person who wrote them.
The Negative Build Up
If fulfilling your why is compatible to, “This is my passion … it is fulfilling … there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing…”, congratulations, you’ve made it!
However, if your answers are less than thrilling or flat-out depressing, then let’s take action (see Post # 05). Because if you don’t process the negative emotions of feeling stuck, bitter, confused, etc., then you may continue to ignore. When you continue to ignore, the negativity builds and eventually combusts in one form or another.
Reclaim your WHY
Perhaps you can acknowledge you are suppressing your feelings and sweeping them under the rug. Now what? I will offer that you don’t have to change your job (or your circumstances) in order to be happy. This may be a new concept to you. But the source of your unhappiness or negative feelings is not due to your job, your boss or any external entity.
Rather, your ways of thinking, i.e. your beliefs, are causing you to feel negative emotions. It’s tempting to blame your career or an external entity, but the root cause of most problems derives from your belief systems. Blaming external causes for your feelings depletes your wellbeing because it makes you feel powerless.
A significant life coaching lesson to my clients is that the sources of our pain are not other people, our jobs or external circumstances. The source of our emotional pain is due to the way we choose to label the world around us. How do you choose labels, and how do those labels influence your why?
You look forward to your next training, professional conference or job title. Your future is bright and your possibilities seem endless. Your career could take multiple turns for the better. Correct? Or … not so much? Perhaps your boat is sinking and at this point you’re just hoping to remain above water.
What is true about your future? Two important points to keep in mind and these can be gamechangers. First and shockingly, your future does not depend on your employer (see Post #13). It does not depend on your colleagues, your boss, your recruiter or your friends.
A common self-destructive habit too many professionals believe is that they have little control over their futures. As if others are somehow responsible for the way your future unfolds. Your future is bright thanks to the explanation provided below.
Also shocking to some of you is that you are 100% responsible for creating your own future. This is a job for you and you only. Every action today will affect you tomorrow – it is your decision to make a move in this moment. You are sole owner over your credentials, mentality, professional development, etc.
Your future is bright because you are CEO over your own life. Take ownership over your brain and hold yourself accountable to your future creation, just as a CEO holds its professionals accountable to their judgments.
How are your actions today going to affect your world tomorrow, next month or next year? What actions do you take next for your future growth and evolvement?
You find yourself less than satisfied at work. But your boss wouldn’t trade you for the world. Despite your stellar performance, you’re not loving the work. There’s a lingering thought that won’t go away: “This work matters to my boss, but it doesn’t matter to me.”
I challenge you to think about the purpose of your job – of any job. Is it to fulfill your intellectual desires, to promote your professional development, to produce results in exchange for benefits? Let’s suppose the purpose of your job is to complete X, Y and Z. In return, you receive a paycheck. Is that not the deal you made with your employer when you accepted the offer?
If you find yourself less than satisfied at work despite your boss’ praises, the solution does not start with finding a new job; it starts from within. I guarantee if you were to brainstorm ways to become more creative, more resourceful, more engaging, and most importantly – more giving, you would start a personal and professional transformation.
If you are less than satisfied at work, first, try to think from an alternate perspective. Imagine providing a service out of your desire to serve. “How can I serve my customers/colleagues today, how can I go above and beyond, how can I meet someone new today, how can I engage with the person who avoids me, where are gaps I can fill, how can I help the new person, what can I learn today that will allow me to contribute more…?”
Secondly, investigate your WHY…why do you choose to currently exist in your job (see Post #12)? If you perform a mental deep dive, you will find your WHY is proportional to your satisfaction. To gain more fulfillment and/or happiness, you must first understand your WHY. Then, you can work towards accomplishing it.
In conclusion, if you are less than satisfied at work, help yourself by redirecting your focus. Mentally perform from an attitude of serving, and investigate a powerful WHY that resonates with you. It is a start towards permanent job satisfaction.
How many times throughout the week do you find yourself repeating thoughts similar to, “My duties at work are boring … I feel like I’m getting dumber … I don’t feel challenged enough.” Are you more capable?
Your Employer’s Agenda
There is a common misconception we tend to believe in our society: your employer is supposed to meet your professional needs. I hate to disappoint, but it is not your job’s job to keep you educated, challenged, or excited. It is also not your job’s job, by the way, to make you happy (see Post #13).
I will take this one step further and state that what your employer cares about is your contribution to the company. They don’t necessarily care about your training or about furthering your education; employer stances vary. It is quite possible they may initiate your professional development, which is fantastic – but don’t count on it.
Now that I’ve burst your bubble and shocked your system, I want to share something that nobody ever told me. Since we have established your employer is not responsible for your own professional fulfillment, this means the task lies in your hands. No one and nothing else in the world can be responsible for your happiness, your development or your fulfillment except for you.
Are you more capable? If yes, then take responsibility over your boredom. Find ways to challenge yourself, even if that means new endeavors outside working hours. The worst thing you can do is sit back and await the next challenging or fulfilling job to fall in your lap. The responsibility is yours and you can start today.
This may not be the kind of advice you were hoping to hear. But I promise you, the sooner you take full responsibility for your own development, the sooner you can fulfill that personal void. You owe it to yourself.