Many of us have felt left out by the group at some point. Sometimes we’re the ones shutting other people out. Not everyone has to be friends, but bullying is dangerous and needs to stop. Bullying has no place in teamwork.
What is bullying at work?
If someone is being left out of the group, having rumours spread about them, spending breaks and lunch on their own not out of choice, getting nasty phone texts… these are all signs of bullying. Bullying is about picking someone out to make them feel small, just to make the rest of the group feel big.
Who’s bullying who?
You know it when you’re being bullied. It’s a bad feeling, and it can really affect you deep down. It’s sometimes harder to know it’s happening when you’re the one who is doing the bullying. It can happen in such small ways to begin with, and no-one ever wants to think of themselves as a bully. It’s easier to label it as letting off steam, or ‘just a bit of fun’. But a bit of you knows that what you’re doing isn’t right, and you definitely wouldn’t want it done to you.
Bullying is (currently) part of our culture and it happens to adults too, which is why we all need to look at bullying and talk about it and admit it exists. That’s the first step to making it history.
If you’ve ever been bullied at school, you don’t want to be bullied at work too. If you’ve ever shut a kid out of the group at school for no real reason, for your own growth as a person you need to face up to that and look at ways to become your better self and not drag that old way of thinking into where you live and work. As young adults, and as adults, we all need to be better than that. We need to become the future we want to see.
Just like at school, tensions can run high in the workplace. It can lead to drama and whispers. Sometimes a team can be tight-knit. When new people rock up, it can change the dynamic in a way that takes some getting used to. Whatever the reason, there is no call for bullying in the workplace, or even people feeling left out professionally as well as socially.
What can bullying look like at work?
It often looks like being given the cold shoulder, or being ignored in a way that makes you feel unseen.
- Maybe everyone goes out in a big group for lunches or social events after work and doesn’t invite you.
- Maybe people stop talking when you come into the room.
- Maybe there are rumours going round about you.
- Maybe your greetings are ignored.
- Maybe people never answer your emails (although they answer everyone else’s).
Low-level (but still very painful) bullying can take a lot of different forms in the workplace. It can still feel just like bullying did at school – horrible. It can make you doubt yourself, even though you know it’s not your fault.
What can you do if you are feeling left out at work?
It’s important to be friendly, even if you aren’t friends.
Of course you need to see signs that you exist, you matter to others, and that you are being helpful in the work environment. If you’re not getting that, it’s a breakdown in someone’s teamwork skills somewhere in the work group!
Be honest with yourself.
- That promotion you had your eye on… did it go to someone who’s been around longer and paid their dues, or has more experience in some important areas?
- That meeting you never got to go to, though you had a lot you wanted to say… was it for more senior people, not for workplace juniors?
- If you’re not being invited for lunch, before you worry too much, think about your own behaviour. Have you given people any sign that you prefer your own company, or have so much to do that you would rather get your head down and work?
- Remember that the drama might not be about you. If people go quiet when you enter the room, there might be some big company scandal or issue you don’t know about, and because you’re new they’re trying to keep life simple for you.
Sometimes, what feels like bullying and ostracization at work can actually be a lack of communication. You may be able to smooth over this rough patch in your employment ith a mix of communication, resilience and teamwork skills.
Engage with people – show them you’re friendly and you exist.
The more you spend time with your co-workers, the more they’ll get to know your personality and skills.
- Engage with some light office chat around the water cooler or drinks/snacks area.
- If you’re heading out to get a snack, ask if you can get anything. A pack of Friday biscuits for the team always helps brighten the mood, and shows you’re helpful and thoughtful even if they don’t know you well yet.
- Make the effort to talk to people about their assignments, and don’t get too stuck into gossip.
Do the tasks expected of you to the best of your ability. There’s no point asking to be promoted, get a pay rise or take on an exciting new project if you’re slipping in the work that’s expected of you.
Once you know you’ve learned the ropes of your job, volunteer to get stuck into other projects if you know you have skills to match, or know they think another pair of hands (however inexperienced) might be useful. Maybe you’re great at Powerpoint presentations, or stay up to date with all the latest free social marketing software? Being extra helpful here and there will help people see how great you are.
Find a friend
Finding a friend is great. Someone you can connect with at work on a non-professional level can really balance out those feelings of self-doubt and loneliness. It only takes one work buddy to make a difference.
Find an ally
Sometimes it’s also really important to find an ally. An ally isn’t the same thing as a friend, even though your work buddy might also be your ally!
An ally is someone who sees your worth and has your best interests at heart. They are someone who can make you more visible to the rest of the workplace.
For example, if you volunteer to do extra tasks for your line manager, and do them well, they may well become your ally.
An ally doesn’t have to be a manager, though! It could be someone who’s around your age but has been at the company longer, or maybe they have a more extrovert personality than you do. If they take you under their wing, it will help the rest of the group get to know you better and see you in your best light.
What can you do if you see someone feeling left out at work?
As a Young Professional, you know how important teamwork is. Not just to you, but to the team as a whole. If one person is having a bad time socially in the workplace, it can change the dynamic. Can you step in and help?
Be an ally
No, you don’t have to be their friend. Not everyone has to be friends. But you can be their ally. You can say hi to them, ask how their weekend was, ask how they’re getting along in work. If someone is feeling left out, sometimes just a friendly hello or another sign they exist is like a long cool drink of water.
If you ask how their work is going, their answer can give you more clues on how to help. If they’re struggling, maybe you or one of your team mates can give a bit of extra support. If they’re doing well, maybe you could find out what they like best about their job so far and what skills they bring to the table so that it can be easier to include them in future projects.
You don’t have to be a manager to be someone’s ally. You could both have just started your apprenticeships, for instance. It’s just that one of you has a little more confidence in your job and social environment, and the other could do with a little teamwork and support.
Seek ways to include your co-worker
If everyone is heading out for a big lunch, why not invite them along? Or you could make a spreadsheet of everyone’s birthdays in the office so they’ll feel included. Perhaps you could ask for their help in a task, or help them get their opinion heard in a meeting.
Let’s be honest – there’s a tiny chance that maybe it’s you and your friends shutting someone out at work. But that’s not good for anyone, including you. Remember, you don’t have to be their best friend and see each other out of work – but don’t shut them out professionally. Because that’s not what being part of a team is about.
Doing things like this is a BIG plus for building your own teamwork skills.
And doing things like this is also the mark of a future leader.
It’s true. You really can help yourself by helping others.
If we all take steps to connect as part of a team, no-one has to feel left out.
Support with bullying at work
Feeling left out sounds small, but it can grow to be a big problem that affects your mental health and wellbeing. What can you do if you are being bullied at work and you need to make it stop?
- You could go to your manager, but sometimes your manager is the one who’s the problem!
- You can go to Human Resources (HR) and make things official with a registered complaint.
- You can also get in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau for free if you want someone professional but not connected with where you work to give you some advice.