Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Leadership Organizations Mental Health Professionals Targets

Harm Reduction Should Be Part of Managing Workplace Bullying

Vulnerable workers facing workplace bullying experience an enormous amount of trauma and they seek out advice on how to manage it. Reporting the bully is often suggested to help them cope with the bullying. Yet reporting the aggressor puts the vulnerable worker at high risk for retaliation and increased workplace bullying. As such, targets need to manage workplace bullying differently than they would conflict in order to reduce their exposure to workplace bullying. 

One of the ways to do this is to develop a tactical plan focusing on harm reduction.  This includes thinking of ways to minimize the violence they are experiencing and if possible, decrease the amount of time they interact with the workplace bullies.

Vulnerable workers should identify the types of aggression most often used and the times when they are most at-risk to encounter aggression. Once these have been identified, vulnerable workers can think about ways to cope more effectively and reduce exposure to workplace bullying and to get out of difficult situations. As targets begin to brainstorm ideas on how to reduce harm, they should always ensure that the strategy they use is not going to harm their professional standing or reputation. Vulnerable workers should develop multiple strategies for the various situations that they can use.

For example, if the aggressor frequently corners the vulnerable worker in their office, targets can develop escape plans or ways to divert the bully away from them without the aggressor suspecting anything. When a vulnerable worker hears the bully coming down the hallway, they might make a phone call or find a reason to leave their office, such as getting coffee or using the restroom. These tactics will not raise suspicion because these often happen at work.

Another way to reduce harm for a vulnerable worker is to manage their emotions. Being a target of bullying is stressful and it causes intense emotions. However, targets are more vulnerable to bullying when their emotions are high. Vulnerable workers, therefore, need to make sure that they are always in control of their reactions and behaviors, so they do not give the aggressor an opportunity to attack. Bullies will also use these times to show that the vulnerable worker is not able to control their behavior and are in fact unprofessional.

Targets should try to avoid the aggressor as much as they possible can. Not having contact with the aggressor does reduce the amount of bullying. This can be an effective strategy to use. However, it should not be used if it will harm the target’s professional standing or their ability to do their job in anyway.

Vulnerable workers need to focus on reducing their harm while also ensuring that they maintain their high professional behavior. This can be a difficult balance, but with planning and support, it can be done.