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What to Do If You Are Bullied at Work

A recent survey says 1 in 3 people has been tormented on the job. Here's what you can do to protect yourself

Bullied at job, man faces overwhelming work.

On-the-job bullying is relevant and rampant. Handle workplace bullying and harassment correctly. — Jetta Productions/Blend Images LLC

There's a lesson in the news of alleged harassment of players on the Miami Dolphins football team: Bullying isn't just about schoolkids or athletes. It's rampant in many workplaces, no matter the industry.

According to the Bellingham, Wash.-based Workplace Bullying Institute, one-third of people surveyed say they've been bullied on the job. Half of the organizations surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported incidents of bullying in their workplaces. And it's not usually coming from that proverbial bad boss whom we all like to gripe about: 82 percent of workplace bullying incidents were peer-to-peer.

The problem takes many shapes and forms. It might be verbal abuse from a coworker, such as swearing and intimidation, snide comments or unrelenting teasing. It could be someone taking credit for your work or trying to make you look incompetent. If it is the boss who's the problem, bullying can mean shouting, constant criticism, the creation of impossible expectations and the shifting of those expectations at the last minute to set you up to fail.

And yes, bullying occurs through technology, such as Facebook or other social media. This kind accounted for about one in five incidents, the SHRM survey found.

It may surprise you to learn that workplace bullying isn't actually illegal (although legislation has been proposed in 25 states). So speaking up can be complicated. Whom do you talk to — the bully, the boss or the people in HR? What are the possible repercussions of speaking up?

Here are five moves you can make to handle a tough situation at work.

1. Size up the situation

Do some soul-searching to be sure that your side of the street is clean. Is your work truly top-drawer? Is your attitude positive? Being able to answer yes will be a huge help if you go public with a complaint.

Consider whether you're doing anything to trigger the bad behavior. Face it, you might bear some responsibility. Be certain that you're not being too thin-skinned about things that you probably should let roll off your back.

Another question to consider is whether anyone else is getting the same rough treatment.

Finally, ask yourself whether the problem started when you reached "a certain age." If it's age-related, you'll have special rights under federal law.

If you need to vent or get advice, be discreet and talk to someone not connected to your workplace. You don't want to be the one feeding the rumor mill.

"Choose your moments carefully," says George Schofield, an employment expert and author of After 50 It's Up to Us. "Decide when you need to stand up for yourself and when it simply isn't worth it." (Not reporting, it turns out, is a common decision: About 43 percent of bullying victims said they didn't report their bullying to anyone in the organization, the SHRM survey found.)

Next page: When to alert and involve the right people. »

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