It is extremely difficult and stressful to work in an environment when persistent workplace aggression is happening. It is important for targets to develop coping strategies that are effective so they can deal with the aggressor(s) and the workplace environment as a whole.
It is vital for targets to first recognize that they are in fact being singled out and aggressively pursued unfairly in the workplace. This recognition allows targets to develop an understanding of what is happening and begin to develop coping mechanisms so they can better manage what they are experiencing.
Targets also need to develop a strong support system both in and out of the workplace if possible. Targets need a place to go to talk about what is happening and they need someone that believes what they are experiencing. They must have backing in the toxic environment as well as outside.
If it is at all possible targets should try to identify at least one person in the workplace that they can trust and go to in times of crisis. This helps the target have someone to talk and consult with about the persistent workplace aggression. Targets need to somehow ensure that this person is trustworthy so they do not set themselves up for more aggression.
If the workplace is too hostile, the target should try to develop a network of professionals outside of the organization that they can consult with and who may be able to offer ideas and suggestions. Part of the survival technique for targets is that they have people in their world that believe what they are experiencing is real and that the target can rely on for comfort. Having support benefits and aids the target in the process of survival in an environment where persistent workplace aggression is happening.
I recently presented with a colleague on workplace bullying in social work. During my welcome, as always, I made an announcement that it is very likely that the audience includes targets, bystanders/witnesses, and even bullies themselves.
The presentation started with an overview of the characteristics that bullies may have, such as compulsive lying, spinning every situation to make them look good, and lacking the ability to self-reflect. Therefore, bullies are unable to make change to their workplace behavior.
A discussion ensued around bullies and as presenters we provided information on this topic. The conversation struck a nerve with another participant. This participant had been talking loudly to someone during the course of our presentation and had on more than one occasion interrupted the workshop to insert their own comments. The participant stated that our presentation was merely based on our own experiences and asked if there was in fact research to back up our statements. My colleague and I simultaneously said yes. This person immediately responded with “I am feeling bullied.”
I found this comment to be interesting and an attempt to ridicule the topic area as well as an attempt to devalue our credibility. This is a classic tactic by workplace bullies and aggressors. Aggressors often make accusations about being victimized and being bullied as a way to diminish the experience of targets and also to make it appear as if the aggressor is actually the one that is being mistreated. The workplace aggressor needs the focus to always be on them and will do whatever it takes to anyone to ensure that this happens.
In retrospect, I truly believe this person was trying to demean the presentation and the topic area in general. However, unknowingly, the participant only added credibility to the presentation by portraying bullying characteristics and behavior.
In the news recently, we have heard a lot about bullying on the playground and in the schools. Children and young people are committing suicide and suffering as a result of harassment in the school settings. Bullying, it seems, is not taken serious until someone gets hurt. This reactive attitude needs to stop and we need to a more proactive approach to all types of bullying.
Bullying is not just a K through 12 grade issue. Persistent workplace aggression, commonly referred to as workplace bullying, is also happening in our workplaces on a regular and frequent basis. The effect that workplace aggression has on targets is just as serious as bullying in schools, yet it is frequently brushed under the carpet and not acknowledged in the workplace at all.
A proactive approach to persistent workplace aggression includes acknowledging that aggression is in fact happening. Determining that your workplace has issues allows for change to begin. Developing a clear understanding of what is actually happening to the target is important. This includes hearing what the aggressor is doing from the perspectives of the target, bystanders, and even the aggressor. It is important not to overlook the importance of bystanders because they are often key players in recognizing what is really going on in the workplace.
Once a workplace identifies the issues, they can begin to address them. One way of doing this is to develop a solid and clear policy against workplace aggression including a definition and consequences. This policy should clearly outline what the workplace identifies as persistent workplace aggression. A one-size fit all policy is unlikely to be effective. Therefore, each workplace needs to gather information about the type of workplace aggression that is happening and tailor their policy to meet the areas of concern. For example, cyber aggression for one workplace may include misuse of emails and in another workplace it may include misuse of social networks. Every policy should include a zero tolerance clause. To be truly proactive, the organization, most importantly, need to train and encourage workers to use the policy.