Of the unexpected horrors that may lurk in the workplace, a hostile environment ranks high, especially if you find yourself with a target on your back. When a bully has someone on his or her radar, a dream job can morph into a nightmare. Workplace bullying jeopardizes careers and health. Stress-related health consequences affect the quality of life on and off the job.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), being bullied on the job closely resembles the experience of being a battered spouse.

“The abuser inflicts pain when and where she or he chooses, keeping the target (victim) off balance knowing that violence can happen on a whim, but dangling the hope that safety is possible during a period of peace of unknown duration. The target is kept close to the abuser by the nature of the relationship between them — husband to wife or boss to subordinate or coworker to coworker,” the WBI website says.

Whether you are a new or experienced nurse, protect yourself from workplace bullying with the following strategies.

1. Address the issue of being harassed whenever it happens.

Always respond in a professional manner. An emotional confrontation will go nowhere fast. Stay calm but be firm, whether bullying occurs in public or during a private one-on-one encounter. Consider saying, “Please don’t talk to me like that” or “Your comment is unacceptable.”

2. Create a record.

Write down each incident and include such details as time, date, place, and witnesses. You may need to present this document to Human Resources.

3. Seek out other victims.

There is strength in numbers when documenting a problem. You and your colleagues can work together to address the issue with your manager or HR. Request a safe and healthy work environment. Schedule follow-up discussions.

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4. Take stock of your workplace culture.

Bullies often have exceptional skills and provide value to their organization. Answer some hard questions: Are employees pitted against each other? Are bullies promoted, punished, or unpunished? Who are the bullies’ best friends?

5. Seek professional help.

If you feel emotional or psychological harm, seek help from a mental health professional or your company’s Employee Assistance Program.

6. Seek a legal resolution.

If you decide to stay and fight, contact an employment lawyer to explore the possibility of legal action. But know this: according to the WBI, “U.S. labor laws provide embarrassingly few worker protections. Lawsuits are expensive.”

If despite your best efforts to avoid or deal with a bully you find it necessary to seek a new job, you should. No one deserves work trauma.

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