Careers advice

How to deal with workplace bullying: Tips from a People and Culture pro

Some suggested strategies for coping.

Whether it’s in a preschool playground or the office of a successful business, bullying is never okay. Unfortunately, we know it’s something that occurs frequently in New Zealand businesses, and therefore needs to be called out and addressed.

If you’re experiencing bullying and harassment in the workplace, we understand how difficult it can be to know what to do. Not only is dealing with bullies stressful, you’re probably also worried about what speaking up might mean for your career and place in the organisation.

To help you deal with workplace bullying, we got some expert advice from Trade Me’s very own Chief People Officer, Annie Brown.

1. What should you do if you’re experiencing workplace bullying?

“It’s so important that you talk to someone about what you’re experiencing, even though this can be very hard, emotionally, to do. If people don't speak up then the behaviour will continue,” says Annie.

In terms of who you talk to, Annie has a range of suggestions.

  • Formal processes: Ideally, your organisation should have formal processes in place, such as confidential email systems, that allow you to report instances of workplace bullying. These can be particularly helpful if you’re not comfortable having a conversation face-to-face.
  • A friendly voice: Another option if you’re not ready to speak about your experiences in person could be to speak to a trusted workplace friend who can be a voice for you.
  • Informal processes: If you’re okay to speak to someone directly, Annie suggests your direct manager as a first port of call.

Most importantly, you need to feel comfortable with who you’re talking to, and whether you want to do this face-to-face or through email or a message.

Talking to friends, family and trusted colleagues is really important.

2. What happens if your direct manager is the bully?

These situations are among the toughest to deal with. Not only are you likely to be around this person a lot, the thought of going over their head and lodging a direct complaint about them can be really stressful – they’re your boss after all.

However, Annie’s advice remains the same: bullying isn’t okay, and you need to speak to someone. In this instance, your company’s HR department is probably the best option, though, again, you can make use of any confidential systems your organisation may have.

At Trade Me, Annie would encourage people to come to her directly, or even our CEO if this was something they ever experienced. This is because Trade Me has a zero tolerance stance when it comes to bullying, something which is called out specifically in our company values.

3. What should you expect to happen if you report bullying in your workplace?

In New Zealand, employers have legal obligations to make sure their people are safe and healthy at work, and this extends to managing the risks of workplace bullying.

Ideally, this means your employer will have procedures in place for managing complaints – ensuring they’re investigated fairly and acted on quickly.

What steps are taken will depend on the specific circumstances and the severity of what’s happening. Importantly, the business should take immediate action to ensure your safety and well being, and also make sure that you’re not subject to retaliation as a result of coming forward.

4. In addition to reporting, what personal coping strategies could you use if you’re experiencing workplace bullying?

It’s important to acknowledge that workplace bullying is a really stressful situation and process for everyone involved, so it’s important you take time for self-care, says Annie..

As well as the support you should expect from your company’s HR department, she says “friends and family are an important part of your support network at times like this. “Talking with people you trust is so important,”she says.

At Trade Me, staff also have a confidential counselling service they can lean on to help them through tough periods, including any instances of workplace bullying, It’s worth checking out whether your organisation offers anything similar, as such resources can be invaluable in helping you deal with the emotional distress of bullying or harassment.