Workplace Bullying

The ideal workplace is one where workers find an environment conducive to productivity, and one that doesn’t damage their mental well-being in the process. There have been many improvements in employment laws and increased expectations from employers to deliver on a safe, supportive, and friendly workplace. This has resulted in a friendly and secure work environment in general. However, instances do arise where employees feel their workplace is hostile, and one of these instances is workplace bullying.

What is Workplace Bullying?

When people think of a bully, it is usually an image of a high school kid with underlying issues that manifest in violence. As people grow older, they often learn the error of their ways and drop their bullying habits since they hamper their ability to make real connections. However, bullying is not restricted to the schoolyard after the day ends. Bullying in the workplace is a very real, and fairly common problem in workplaces in the United States.

Workplace bullying covers a wide range of problematic behaviour often targeted at a single employee. It can take many forms, such as intimidation or spiteful commentary towards a worker. It could also include the victim being mocked or having to face offensive language. In the modern workplace, types of workplace bullying often take the following forms:

  • Cruel and persistent practical jokes.
  • Deliberately misleading employees as to their roles and company policies.
  • Refusing to give a worker time off without a valid reason.
  • Singling out a worker for intense performance scrutiny.
  • Criticizing a worker harshly or even unfairly.
  • Verbal abuse such as threats or comments aimed to humiliate.
  • Creating virtually impossible-to-meet KPIs that skew employee evaluation results.

Are There Any Workplace Bullying Laws to Protect Workers?

The United States of America has a Healthy Workplace Bill that entitles employees to a safe and secure work environment. This includes a workplace free of harassment or coercion. However, when it comes to workplace bullying specifically, there is no comprehensive piece of legislation dealing with it. The absence of specific laws is due to the fact that everyone has a different idea of what is workplace bullying in the first place.

However, since 2009, 16 states have proposed legislation that specifically relates to bullying in the workplace. Many of these bills are based on the federal Healthy Workplace Bill. States including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, California, and Missouri have enacted workplace bullying laws to protect employees from bullying from both individuals and institutions.

There are also several legal precedents set by courts in the US that offer protection and security to employees. For example, the principle of at-will employment theoretically allows employers to fire employees when they see fit, with or without a valid reason. This principle has led to the abuse of several victims of sexual harassment, abuse, and workplace bullying. There have been known instances where the victim was fired when they tried to take a stand against such matters.

However, there are also instances where the courts have ruled in favour of such workers and awarded damages to be paid by their former employer. In some cases, the courts have even made employers reinstate wrongly terminated employees. Therefore, it is crucial for employers to identify and address bullying early on, or face a hefty fine as well as a hit to their brand credibility.

Identifying Instances of Bullying

Bullying isn’t always loud and apparent. Sometimes it can be very subtle. This presents a challenge to employers who want to resolve conflict in the workplace efficiently, as they first have to identify the source of bullying as well as the victim. A good rule to follow is to put yourself in the shoes of people viewing the instances of bullying. Would most reasonable people find a specific employee’s bullying behaviour unacceptable? If the answer to that question is yes, you need to start acting fast. But before you do, here are a few categories that can help you narrow down the list of potential bullying instances:

  • Verbal abuse, offensive comments, threats, mockery, or jokes.
  • Intimidation and threats, social exclusion, invading privacy.
  • Sabotaging an employee’s work performance.
  • Retaliation in the face of complaints against an employee’s behaviour.
  • Institutionalized bullying where the workplace accepts, and even supports bullying.

Why You Need a Comprehensive Workplace Bullying Policy

Your firm’s employee handbook forms the basis of the relationship between you and your employees. A good handbook will cover all aspects of the workplace, from performance expectations to addressing grievances. It is very important to make a workplace bullying policy part of your handbook. To understand why this is so, here is a look at the impact of workplace bullying on an employee:

  • Employees can develop sickness or even anxiety in the workplace as a reaction.
  • Physical symptoms can include higher blood pressure as well as digestive problems.
  • Bullying leads to stress which increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Employees may have trouble sleeping, leading to reduced productivity.
  • Employees may experience a loss of appetite and frequent headaches, which hamper output.
  • Stress from bullying can lead to triggering depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.
  • Employees may begin to miss work as they find the idea of the hostility there very challenging.
  • Certain employees may even become suicidal from consistent bullying, putting themselves at risk.
  • Bullying can hurt a person’s self-esteem, leading them to develop more severe performance-related problems in the workplace.

The Business Impact of Bullying In the Workplace

It’s not just the employee being bullied that suffers. Your firm and workplace as a whole will also feel the impact of unaddressed workplace bullying. If the bullying at your workplace continues unchecked, you could soon face:

  • Legal problems, leading to financial expenditure.
  • Resources spent to locate and manage bullies.
  • Employees may take more days off, causing lost productivity.
  • Higher employee turnover will upset your talent intelligence model.
  • Reduced team cohesion and performance, impacting efficiency, and output.
  • A hit to your employer brand, making it harder for staffing agencies to source new employees for you.

Managing Bullies in the Workplace

Bullies can eventually face legal consequences for their actions. These can range from a formal warning to a pay cut to a transfer. There have been cases where bullies have lost their job altogether. However, certain types of bullying are not illegal and can be hard to prove. For example, a manager might be stealing credit for a subordinate’s hard work. This could even result in the manager getting a promotion or a bonus he or she may not deserve. Your company policy should clearly encourage employees to tackle bullying as soon as it happens by:

  • Documenting the instance.
  • Save evidence, whether physical or digital.
  • Report any instances of bullying immediately.
  • Confront bullies in the presence of a supervisor or manager.
  • Offer suggestions for improvements in bullying policies.
  • Reach out to co-workers for support and advice.
  • Speak up about any such instances, especially during exit interviews.

It would be hard for anyone to empathize with a workplace bully. Bullies create a hostile, toxic environment that makes it very hard for other employees to stay productive and balanced. It often leads to conflict and can cause employees to develop several mental or physical disorders. Overall, workplace bullying is bad for business and needs to be dealt with as soon as it emerges. Otherwise, it could become a serious problem and embarrassment for your firm.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to report workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying must be reported as soon as it happens. The victim should contact the firm’s HR department, as well as their line manager and that of the bully. If the line manager is complicit or is the main perpetrator, then you should report the incident directly to HR.

How to handle workplace bullying?

Managers need to handle workplace bullying as soon as possible before it escalates. Managers need to investigate the incident, and document their findings. In conjunction with an HR representative, the perpetrator must be confronted about their actions.

Your primary goal should be to resolve the matter and prevent further incidents without necessarily firing someone or forcing someone to resign. Making it compulsory for the bully to attend an anti-bullying workshop also seems to help. Dismissal from the workplace should always be a last resort. However, if it comes to that, don’t be afraid to let a toxic person go.

How to stop workplace bullying?

Designing anti-bullying policies and opening up avenues for employees to anonymously report incidents are by far the most effective ways to counter bullying. Employees with a history of aggressive and problematic behaviour should be monitored closely and corrected wherever possible. In worst-case scenarios, you may even have to fire the perpetrator(s).

How to document workplace bullying?

Every step of the investigation process needs to be documented. The manager or HR professional investigating the incident should interview both parties involved, as well as any potential witnesses. The investigator must carefully document these findings in writing, and support them with video, photo, or audio evidence where necessary.

It is also important to document any corrective or remedial actions taken, along with the disciplinary committee’s proceedings. Both parties should be given a chance to speak, but it is best for the investigator to independently arrive at a reasonable conclusion.

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