Despite growing awareness, bullying presents a danger to the physical and emotional wellbeing of workers. Take these steps to ensure the workplace is a safe space.
Bullying in the workplace is escalating, with up to half of U.S. workers saying they’ve either been a target of or a witness to abusive behavior. It can be challenging to identify instances of bullying and to encourage/enable employees to report problems. However, if HR and other leaders have a better understanding of bullying, they can maximize their ability to keep workers safe, happy, and productive.
Experts suggest internalizing these realities about workplace bullying:
- Bullying speaks volumes about the organization. Your culture could be an incubator for bullying if the atmosphere is highly competitive and aggressive. If managers enable, encourage, and/or model a winning-at-all-costs attitude, this can encourage bullying.
- Bullying thrives when there is a lack of consequences. Do high-level managers or top producers get a pass on bullying? Are employees afraid to report abuses for fear of retribution? Have employees reported someone for bullying, only to have their complaint ignored or dismissed? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you need to work at ensuring your policies are clear and applied evenly across the board.
- You can’t stop bullying without top-down support. If senior leadership isn’t driven to support anti-bullying efforts for the sake of employee wellbeing, show them the financial costs of this behavior—including those related to absenteeism, turnover, health problems and medical expenses, workers’ compensation, accidents and errors, and poor productivity.
- All reports of bullying must be investigated. All employees should feel confident that any concern they report will be taken seriously and addressed. Policies should spell out what this investigation will entail and the consequences of bullying. Make it clear that reporters will not be retaliated against; and stress how you will keep them safe. Again, all policies must be applied consistently for all employees at all levels.
- Training is important for everyone. Everyone in the organization from the board room on down should have to participate in training about how to recognize and report bullying. At the same time, leaders and others should receive emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and other training to ensure they treat employees with respect, fairness, and consideration.
- Change is possible. When bullies are motivated to change, change may be possible. Consider a four-step process: alert them to how they are behaving, help them see what impact this has on others, work with them to help them uncover what is driving their behavior, and enable them to develop healthy new coping and communication strategies. Of course, bullies must understand the consequences if they are unable or unwilling to change.
- Don’t forget targets of bullying. Statistics suggest that up to 65% of people who have been targets of bullying lose their jobs for some reason. They either quit or are reassigned or moved to a different shift. Make sure these workers have access to counseling, employee assistance programs, and other services they may need. Let them know when their situation is resolved, and keep in touch with them over time.