Being Bullied

  • December 11, 2023

Dear Advy,

I feel as though I am being bullied at work--nothing overt but small acts of microaggression, gas lighting and the like. It is affecting my happiness and my sleep. What should I do?

Being Bullied

Dear Being Bullied,

You are not alone. Bullying in the form of microaggressions and gaslighting has been found to have deep negative impacts on mental health in research so it is definitely important to do something, especially since you are starting to feel the effects now. There are varied approaches to dealing with bullying in the workplace, given the context of the workplace and the power dynamics involved.

If you are able to do so, speak up. This could mean speaking to a trusted mentor at your workplace who is not engaging in the bullying for some advice on what to do. There is then the potential for this mentor to help address the situation. Maybe you feel comfortable speaking to your bullies directly but rather than “calling them out”, you can “call them in” and start the conversation with how you are feeling. Start with “I” statements and what you need from them (i.e. “When you do X, I feel Y”), rather than focusing on what they did which would result in defensiveness.

In the moment, for instance if the person is speaking with you in a derogatory manner or raising their voice, you can simply state that you are not comfortable with them in that moment. Often people do not realize that they are crossing a boundary and can snap out of it if interrupted. Do this only if you feel safe.

If you cannot speak up due to power dynamics in either of the manners above, there are resources you can reply on such as your respective Law Society’s practice advisors and equity ombudspersons, your respective Lawyers Assistance Program’s peer support mentors and counsellors, and any mentors such as through the CBA. While you are navigating the situation, you can try to minimize the interactions with the people engaging in the bullying as a temporary measure.

You can also speak with other lawyers outside the firm with whom you are friendly, or are aware that they have experienced similar issues, or even just someone whose opinion you value and feel comfortable speaking with. They can provide moral support, practical advice, and also potential exit solutions to find a new job.

It is important to rely on your support systems during this difficult time, as well as your family, friends, and outside counselling. This can also include discussing the situation with your family doctor about the way the bulling is affecting you and seek advice, including sleep hygiene, revised work schedule or even work environment change. It can be helpful to have those notations in the doctor’s records to rely on if needed.

Lastly, you should not have to put up with remaining in a workplace that is damaging to your mental health. It may be that it is not safe for you to remain at your workplace. Consider other positions that could be a better fit for you and devise an exit plan. It can be helpful to do this with input from a mentor outside of your firm.

Be well,

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