Workplace bullying involves repeated, intentional acts of aggression, hostility, social isolation, or disrespect. These acts often happen face-to-face, but can also take place via email, text messaging, or social media platforms.
Bullying can seriously damage a business’s reputation, and can lead to litigation. It can have a have long-lasting negative effect on the life of the employee who is being bullied. It is not always preventable, but employers can significantly reduce the incidence of bullying and in the process create work environment that is positive for all employees. Creating a supportive work environment in the face of bullying may require time and up front resources up front but this is a small price to pay when compared to the possible fall-out of bullying in the workplace – reputational, financial and emotional.
Effective ways to eliminate workplace bullying1
It is very tricky to pinpoint and eradicate bullying in the workplace but it is a manageable problem. What is needed is a carefully constructed and clearly communicated strategy designed to engender a positive environment and which express zero tolerance for bullying – with clear repercussions for bullies. Here are nine recommended steps to eradicate bullying:
- Acknowledge that bullying exists in your organisation. Being dismissive and unsupportive will only serve to entrench the problem.
- Do not sanction bad behaviour by dismissing it as being a sign of healthy competition between colleagues.
- Develop clear guidelines identifying acceptable company standards of conduct that clearly define bullying and lay out the consequences. These should shared with all employees and include procedures for responding to and reporting bullying – as well as emphasising a zero-tolerance policy toward aggressive behaviour.
- Provide employee and management training programs on workplace aggression.
- Establish a workplace mediation team for incidents involving colleagues that sit at different levels of seniority in the organisation, such as managers and employees, to ensure that all parties are treated fairly. This team could be internal or could be a specialist third-party professional such as a consultant mediator.
- Remind employees about your organization’s Employee Assistance Programme and educate them on how to access these services. EA professionals provide individuals with counselling, support and stress management solutions.
- Foster a supportive work culture so that employees who are bullied feel secure in raising incidents with their supervisors or Human Resources. Workers may feel ashamed of being bullied or be afraid to report incidents.
- Develop social media policies that protect employees from cyber-bullying. Clearly state the consequences for employees that infringe these policies.
- Get clear on the difference between bullying and harassment because each of these has different legal consequences and should impact how a company responds to complaints.
- Harassment involves targeting victims based on their particular classification, such as gender, race or ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, or disability.
- Bullying typically targets an individual without particular focus on a personal classification.