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How to Create a Bully-Free Workplace

Though we tend to think of bullying as a problem that ends with high school, workplace bullying is an unfortunate day-to-day reality for millions of adults. According to a 2017 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), 19 percent of Americans are victims of bullying in the workplace. Bullies create a work environment that not only damages the health and well-being of its victims but also negatively affects a company’s bottom line.

Investopedia found that workplace bullying can negatively impact a company’s performance and reputation through reduced productivity, high employee turnover and increased legal costs. Fortunately, awareness of this issue has greatly increased in recent years, thanks to efforts such as National Bullying Prevention Month. Yet small- and medium-sized businesses still need to take steps to ensure they’re providing a safe and productive work environment for all employees.

Recognize Bullying in the Workplace

The signs of workplace bullying are often subtle and can easily be mistaken for normal work stress, allowing them to go unnoticed by many HR professionals. The WBI defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators.” Bullies will often habitually take credit for another employees work or, conversely, shift blame to their target when things go wrong. More obvious signs of bullying include aggression, intrusion into a target’s personal space or belongings, or subjecting a target to public humiliation. Supervisors can bully subordinates by setting unrealistic expectations or purposefully pitting employees against one another. Excluding certain employees from important meetings and blocking them from opportunities for advancement are also telltale signs of office bullying.

Properly Handle Incidents of Bullying

Employees should always know they can safely report incidents of bullying to their supervisors or HR representatives. Since the federal government and many states do not have anti-bullying laws, it’s up to individual organizations to devise a strict no-bullying policy (include this information in the employee handbook). If you haven’t already, create an employee complaint form and implement a standardized practice for investigating claims. This practice should include interviewing the victim, bully and any bystanders. Ensure that the investigation process remains confidential. Once it comes time to confront the bully, you should outline the specific behaviors that the bully must change and refer back to the employee handbook to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation.

Create a Bully-Free Workplace

Rather than wait for an incident to occur, it’s best to take immediate steps to proactively foster a positive, bully-free work environment. Creating a company culture that prioritizes inclusion and celebrates diversity reduces the likelihood that a bully will be tolerated in your workplace. Implement a management training program that identifies the early signs of bullying, and include all staff on workplace civility workshops to forge respect and companionship among coworkers. For smaller organizations, dedicating time for team building exercises and social outings help to strengthen bonds and build trust. A recent study by Warwick University found that happiness makes people 12 percent more productive, proving that a happy work environment is not only better for employees, but for the organization as well.

All of this underscores the importance of creating and maintaining a bully-free workplace where all employees feel comfortable and accepted. Getting management on board with new procedures for identifying and handling workplace bullying may present its own challenges, but the long-term benefits always outweigh the potential costs.

4 Point Consulting can help you navigate these new procedures and policies. Contact us to learn more.

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