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“Why You Gotta Be So Mean?” The Office Is No Place For Bullies

5.14.20

Have you ever received a report that one of your employees is feeling bullied at work? If so, you are not alone. According to a recent Monster survey, some 90% of workers believe they have been bullied at work. That is an alarming figure, and it highlights the fact that bullying is an issue your H.R. department must be equipped to address.

No federal or state laws outlaw bullying, and unless the bullying at issue is related to a victim’s protected characteristics such as race, sex, age, etc., employees have no legal protections. Bills that would prohibit workplace bullying have been introduced in more than half the states, but none have been made law. But even though “bullying” on its own is not illegal, you still need to take action to prevent such behavior in the workplace.

What Is Bullying?

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines bullying as “repeated mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees; abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; work sabotage; or verbal abuse.” However, some experts say it goes even further.

“Workplace bullying is psychological violence,” says Lynne Curry, author of Beating the Workplace Bully: A Tactical Guide to Taking Charge. “A bully is someone who repeatedly and intentionally goes after a target.”

Who Can Be A Bully?

Although, as the Monster survey revealed, the majority of bullying occurs between a supervisor and direct-report (51%), anyone can be a bully. Bullying often occurs within the same reporting level; 40% of respondents stated bullying came from a fellow coworker.

Employees can also be bullied by clients and customers. Finally, same-sex bullying often exists in the workplace: males bully other men 35% of the time, and women bully other women 33% of the time.

What Are The Consequences Of Bullying?

Repeated bullying can trigger physical, mental, and emotional health problems, such as high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, stress, anxiety, and depression. When the victims are your employees, that translates to low productivity, absenteeism, and poor morale. Bullying also compromises employee judgment and creates safety risks, because when workers are bullied, they are more likely to forget safety procedures.

Because bullying can lead to high turnover, it can also have a direct financial impact on employers. According to Monster, 65% of workplace victims choose to leave to avoid further mistreatment, quit when conditions worsen, or are terminated.

Finally, bullying can lead to poor publicity for employers, in the form of negative ratings and comments on websites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Yelp. Employers’ external image is just as important as the internal image. Bullying says a lot about an employer, and in today’s “cancel culture,” what goes on inside a company translates to real dollars.

What Should You Do?

It is important to acknowledge that your human resources team and leadership group might not always be able to stop bullying, but you certainly can curb it. Like most problems in the workplace, a critical step in addressing bullying in the workplace is training. You should provide training for all employees to help recognize and address bullying. Depending on the size of the organization, you can choose to conduct training at multiple levels, both with supervisors and lower-level employees.

You may also choose to hire external legal experts to conduct the training. This is an especially good idea if no training has ever been offered before or if a serious incident has occurred. Training should be provided early and often – both when an employee joins the company and as often as once a year, or more often if a serious event takes place.

Another part of your responsibility is to ensure that supervisors know what to do when they receive a complaint and that all employees know how to report complaints. Thus, you should establish a reporting system, so that victims of and witnesses to bullying can report occurrences to supervisors and/or H.R.. Indeed, victims and witnesses should have multiple avenues to report bullying. Establishing an anonymous reporting system is another good way to encourage reporting.

You must also show your commitment to addressing bullying by fully and swiftly investigating reports regardless of the severity of the complaint. You cannot ignore complaints from employees you deem overly sensitive.

Further, you must enforce consequences when bullying is found to have occurred, whether it be in the form of an apology, written warning, suspension, or even termination. This is crucial because a lack of consequences reinforces bullying. Providing support for those bullied is also critical. You should keep the employee who reported the bullying updated on the investigation and make them aware of any employee assistance programs and let them know when the issue has been resolved. Periodic check-ins may also be appropriate.

Finally, you must ensure that you have an anti-bullying policy and that both new and current employees acknowledge having received and reviewed a copy of such policy.

Conclusion

If you take each of these measures, you – and the company as a whole – will be viewed by your employees has having zero tolerance for bullying. This will ensure your workers can feel safe coming to work, allowing them to focus on what really matters: the work they were hired to do. 

Contact the authors for more information here or here.

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