8 Steps to Take to Stop Bullying in Your Workplace

11/03/2016 09:26 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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Part 2 of a 2-part series

In our previous article on the topic of workplace bullying, we provided some statistics on numbers of workers affected by workplace bullying, the eight workplace bully personality types, the high cost of bullying to employers, and briefly mentioned steps that employers can take to minimize liability.

Remember that 35% of U.S. workers have been bullied according to a Zogby International survey, and the most common employer action has been to deny and discount the bullying. This environment leads to reduced productivity, increased turnover, and sometimes serious legal problems.

To acknowledge "Freedom from Workplace Bullies" week, this second part of the series will go into some depth on the steps employers can take to create a less hostile work environment and minimize exposure to litigation.

8 Positive Steps to Take:

  1. Know what bullying looks like. In a professional environment, this includes repeated mistreatment including verbal humiliation, persistent and unwarranted criticism, isolation and exclusion from social activities. Obvious signs are physical and overtly verbal abuse, but the subtler signs include sabotage of a person's efforts to succeed.
  2. Look out for targets of bullying behavior. Certain types of co-workers tend to be targets for workplace bullies - those who are very skilled at their jobs, favorites of management, those well-liked in the company and those not particularly aggressive. Take note of those who seems to have positive relationships and who doesn't seem to interact with a group.
  3. Focus on job performance and avoid negative comments unrelated to the job or the task at hand. Comments such as "any dummy could do this job" can be viewed as bullying. Train your managers and supervisors on appropriate ways to provide constructive criticism to workers without resorting to name-calling or using negative personal comments.
  4. Promote a positive workplace culture. Your leadership sets the tone for how employees are expected to treat each other. Make clear in your handbook and by your own actions what type of behavior is permitted and what behaviors are expressly prohibited. Provide clear directions for reporting allegations and prohibit retaliation against those who do complain.
  5. Investigate complaints promptly. Don't ignore direct complaints or rumors of bullying in your workplace. Take immediate action because the longer the bullying is permitted to occur, the greater the damage to the victim and potential liability to your company.
  6. Provide training to both supervisors and employees. Your policies will mean little if supervisors don't understand them and how to enforce them. Supervisors need to know how to identify bullying, fairly investigate claims, maintain privacy and appropriately discipline the offenders. And, if employees are not made aware of their right and responsibility to report such behavior, they will continue to work under the assumption that the employer does not take this seriously.
  7. Encourage a zero-tolerance environment. In the survey noted previously, bullied workers were asked how the employer handled the situation. The majority of bullies were found to be bosses or supervisors and 72% of those surveyed felt their employer rationalized or even encouraged a culture of bullying or denied it even existed. In those cases, it is impossible for employees to feel safe or have any confidence or ability to be productive and happy in their jobs.
  8. Call bullying what it is. Using euphemisms such as incivility, disrespect, personality conflicts, difficult people, management style, trivializes bullying and is a grave disservice to those being bullied. Not calling bullying "bullying," in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of those who made the bullying possible, adds to the injury done to bullied individuals whose jobs, careers, and health have been threatened as the result.

Responsibility for the cause of bullying and the cure lays on the shoulders of senior management. Employers put people in positions that could cause harm, and they can provide safety by changing the culture which may have permitted bullying to take hold.

Plaintiff's lawyers are using other existing causes of action to turn bullying behavior into legal claims against employers. Before you face such litigation, take the steps necessary to acknowledge bullying and do something about it. HR Solutions may be right at your fingertips. To learn more about how you can protect your business, give us a call or drop us a line.

Margaret Jacoby, SPHR, is the founder and president of MJ Management Solutions, a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive. This article first appeared on the MJ Management Solutions blog.

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