2020 July

Putting a Stop to Office Bullying

by Twila Albrecht and Chris Rahe

Whether overt or subtle, abrasive or silent, bullying can follow us from the school yard into the workplace.

According to Forbes magazine, workplace bullying affects 75% of workers.“Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e. sabotage, which prevents work from getting done,” from Workplace Bullying Institute.

It’s not just a personnel issue, it is estimated to cost the nation’s businesses $450 to $500 billion in revenues annually.

As reported by business.com, less than 20% of employers will help a bullied target, leaving 65.6 million victims without much recourse—other than, for 61% of them, leaving their job in order to escape the resulting emotional stress and suffering.

Bullying behaviors are common and can show up in the following ways:

  • Offensive communication – mocking, use of profanity, discrimination, yelling, silence (no open communication)
  • Belittling or demeaning someone’s work or ideas
  • Embarrassing someone publicly or talking about them behind their back
  • Blocking the advancement or growth of an employee
  • Isolating or excluding someone from activities or meetings
  • Setting unrealistic expectations or workloads so employees continually feel they have failed
  • Taking credit for another’s work and/or not giving credit where credit is due
  • Distorting the truth to promote your own agenda  
  • Creating unhealthy competition between employees by pitting them against each other
  • Disregard for staff well-being

Some of the items on this list are patterns that take place over a long period of time, and can go on undetected. Staff who are bullied often feel they don’t have the resources they need to fix their situation, so they feel stuck, and ultimately most leave the organization if there is no intervention.  This can result in high turnover rates for organizations where toxic workplace environments and/or processes are not addressed.

What can you do to make sure this toxic culture doesn’t infect your workplace? While incremental changes to policies and structures of communication are crucial, those of you in leadership positions can set the tone of your workplace. According to Training Magazine, Bullying would dramatically decrease if leaders would first openly and formally make aggressive or abusive conduct unacceptable. Here are some practical tips on how to minimize the issue:

  • Develop a formal code of conduct that:
    • Defines bullying in the workplace.
    • Educates staff on the negative effects of bullying on an individual and group’s morale and on the organization’s survival.
    • Raises awareness and responsibility of every group member.
    • Clearly defines penalties for non-compliance.
  • Create a “zero-tolerance” policy on the subject, comparable to zero tolerance for drugs, and enforce it at all levels without any exception.
  • Apply full transparency on the subject during staff meetings, while rewarding positive attitudes and discouraging/punishing bullying behaviors.
  • Ensure that executives manage by example, treating everyone fairly and with care, without exception—and condemning any bullying attitude.
  • Confront the bully without delay. Use a formal feedback form to report the perpetrator’s attitude and outline objectively any behavior that must change.
  • Train your HR staff to help people deal with bullying. Both the bully and his or her targets need to be educated, and procedures must be in place on how to deal with the issue.

Whether you are the target or have perpetuated bullying behavior, there are dozens of resources for handling a personal situation or influencing organizational change. Here are just a few for those ready to do the work:

*Although similar, bullying is different from sexual harassment or sexual abuse. If you are experiencing mistreatment in that way, seek professional and/or legal counsel.

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