How to handle workplace bullying

Kelli Crawford

Bullying is not just a school issue; it has become a major problem in the workplace as well, with some studies identifying at least 27 percent of respondents having direct experience with abusive conduct at work. We may learn to bully or observe it at home or at school, but then we may carry it into our workplaces.

Have you been an office bully?

  • Repeatedly criticizing someone else
  • Leaving people out of meetings with malicious intent
  • Sharing gossip though you know you shouldn’t
  • Using bcc on email to hurt someone or create conflict for others

Those are somewhat less severe bullying behaviors, but you may have seen gross injustices, such as a boss who insults or humiliates subordinates in meetings or publicly blames the team for the office’s failings. Or, a coworker is so focused on surpassing others that she will use any leverage possible to sign the major client or make the best deal, even if others get hurt in the process. We often hear, “Well, that’s just business” or “It just goes with the job” to justify or even encourage this behavior in the workplace.

What do we do about it? Before we do something, we have to recognize when it happens.

How do I recognize bullying?

Bullying is more than just unpleasant behavior. It is severe enough that some government agencies are now providing resources to help managers address bullying in the workplace. One of these resources defines bullying as:

  • … repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed toward an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s)… and often involves an abuse or misuse of power… it creates feelings of defenselessness and injustice in the target and undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work. (via Washington State Department of Labor and Industries)

We might be tempted to look the other way or hope someone else deals with it, but is that the best response we can offer?

How does God view bullying?

Jesus calls us to a different way of living than what may be considered normal in workplace culture. Imagine how our workplaces would change if we lived like we believed:

  • God’s opinion matters more than anyone else’s (Acts 5:29).
  • The first will be last and the last will be first (Matthew 20:16).
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31).

Fully embracing these truths from the Bible will transform our actions at work. It will be difficult and saying some things may risk losing our employment, but we can choose to value what God values, to be selfless, and to love others by standing up for them when they are abused.

How do I prevent bullying?

Though bullying and any other hurtful behavior happens in our workplaces, we can partner with God to bring His goodness and grace to transform every environment (Matthew 5:13-16). In How Then Should We Work, Hugh Whelchel explains, “If God and His grace are not at the center of a [workplace] culture, then other things will be substituted as ultimate values, taking over God’s role as the priority and focus of all decisions and actions.”

We can partner with God to bring His goodness and grace to transform every environment.

When the Holy Spirit lives in and works through us, we can help shift our workplace values more toward God and His grace. We may not be able to completely change what may feel like a thankless job or an uncomfortable conflict, but we allow God’s grace through us to improve what may otherwise be a harsh and unhealthy environment. When we do our jobs with excellence and accountability, in a distinctively Christ-like way, we can have a profoundly positive impact in our workplaces.

How do I respond to bullying?

Find practical ways to influence others and the culture of your workplace. Here are a few to get started:

  1. Recognize bullying behaviors.
  2. Seek wisdom from God and from other believers.
  3. Use the resources provided by your employer or from Human Resources agencies.
  4. Resist taking revenge.
  5. Don’t ignore the behavior or delay addressing it.
  6. Take action as the Holy Spirit leads.
  7. Pray for the person inflicting the hurt and for the person being hurt.

Above all, we must love others with both truth and grace, telling the truth in love, and extending grace in love. We tell the truth of what we see, but we do not condemn or seek revenge. We can provide understanding and resources for change, but we do not ignore the hurtful behavior or enable it to continue.

This is not easy! But we can stand against bullying and for people because Jesus empowers us to navigate our toughest workplace situations.

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