It’s a part of the workplace experience most people don’t want to talk about: gaslighting, mobbing, or bullying at work that causes the subject to retreat, feel dejected and powerless, and targeted. The result is often that the subject of the bullying leaves the company, and their reputation is tarnished. Sometimes it happens because the subject of the mistreatment did nothing wrong but allowed the bullying to persist, sending unfortunate messages of either compliance or low self-esteem.
Sometimes it happens because the subject of the mistreatment did nothing wrong but allowed the bullying to persist, sending unfortunate messages of either compliance or low self-esteem.
I’ve counseled many individuals who’ve experienced bullying at work. They describe being picked on by a peer, public shaming, and even harassment by senior managers who question their integrity and values. The first time I worked with a client who shared this experience, I thought it was unique. Then more clients described this treatment. Later, an article I published garnered tremendous attention as professionals reached out to say they’d had the same experience.
If you find yourself being gaslit or mobbed or bullied at work and you’ve begun to question your value, worth, contribution and longevity in your job, here are some things to do immediately:
1. Separate Emotion From Fact
This might be easier said than done, so enlist the help of someone you trust. Talk to a friend, counselor, or family member about what you're experiencing and ask whether your feelings are clear or if emotion is clouding your judgment. I'm not discounting emotion – quite the contrary! Be clear on the experience you're having and whether it's fact-based (i.e., a negative performance evaluation based on your lack of skills or experience) or emotion-based. (i.e., you feel left out of social events your peers are active in, making you feel isolated.) If you need to take action with your company leadership, separating facts from feelings helps.
2. What Can You Control?
Often, the subject of workplace bullying feels powerless and without control over their situation. This is a horrible feeling. I would guide a client to look at all aspects of their environment and clarify which ones they have the power to control (and influence) and which they do not. For example, you can control how you respond to negative treatment, but you can’t control how someone else feels. Oftentimes, not reacting to bullying at work makes the bully lose interest and move along. This is an action you can control for yourself.
3. Look Forward
Reputation is the most powerful and valuable aspect of our career, and when someone has been bullied at work, their reputation might be questioned. Observers of the bullying might wonder, “Why didn’t they stick up for themselves?” and “Are the rumors true?” thus eroding the subject’s credibility and brand. Looking forward requires you to create a plan for recovery and control and regain reputational credibility. Consider:
The answers to these questions give you intention and focus going forward. They empower you to regain a sense of control and focus over your career.
In some cases, the only option is to change jobs or circumstances. Remember that reputational challenges can follow you to other jobs if you don’t plan and prepare. Create a narrative to explain your previous work experience and your desire to change jobs (that doesn’t sound petty or too alarming). Your next employer could become concerned if you describe, in detail, what you endured previously. It resembles the new boyfriend who complains about how crazy the ex-girlfriend was...After a while, it begs more questions than answers.
No one should be mistreated at work. Sometimes it takes a while before the subject realizes they are the victim of gaslighting, bullying, or mobbing, and they might feel embarrassed that they allowed it to continue. Regardless of what stage the bullying is at when someone feels mistreated, they should bring it to the attention of senior management or human resources to seek guidance and remedy.