Let’s Talk About Workplace Bullying
Bullying is usually talked about in school hallways, not at company meetings, but it’s as common in the workplace as it is on the schoolyard. According to Mental Health America, roughly two out of every five people have experienced bullying at work.
Workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment" that involves verbal abuse, work sabotage and/or humiliation and intimidation. With that definition in mind, let’s look at how to spot a bully, take action, and cultivate an environment that inhibits a bully’s bad practices.
Identify the Behavior
The traditional idea of a bully is usually pretty easy to spot: someone presenting aggressive behavior, yelling at or speaking down to co-workers, and openly creating a negative work experience for others. However, the more common form of workplace bullying is much more covert. This turns out to be a much harder form of bullying to recognize. Common expressions of this type of bullying can be the exclusion of someone from activities, passive-aggressive actions and exchanges, and often negative comments about one person(s) to others. It’s critical to keep lines of communication open with your team and be present. By doing so, it will be easier to spot more undercover signs of bullying.
Unfortunately, workplace bullies are also often seen as very effective workers, being a great employee on paper despite the negative impact they have on other employees or the work environment. As author Mike Murphy notes in this Forbes article, “Teach your people, and especially your leaders, to look beyond the obvious signs of bullying and to not let a great skill set cloud how they see the facts about any employee’s behavior.”
Having a strategy in mind for approaching an employee about this behavior is highly important. By making a plan, you’ll feel more confident in addressing the matter and will be more prepared for the various ways the conversation could develop. The same can be said for a victim of bullying who is looking to bring this behavior to a superior’s attention. Bullying is a serious accusation and shouldn’t be shared haphazardly.
It’s also vital to keep things fact-based. Not all bullying is easy to document, but do what you can. If you have anyone that can bear witness to certain behavior and/or negative exchanges, lean on them. While it is important to note the negative emotional effects bully-behavior may be having, it all has to be based in actualities. Being labeled a bully can ruin someone’s professional reputation so it’s important to remain objective and look at the evidence involved, especially if you’re in a superior role.
We can’t talk about bullying without talking about legalities. Every state has different laws and policies in place relating to bullying. There are many different types of bullying depending on where the offense is taking place, including cyber, workplace, and school. To get clarification on laws in your state, visit www.stopbullying.gov.
According to data from Mental Health America, “close to half of those who experienced bullying reported intentionally decreased work effort, time spent at work, and, for a smaller number, quality of work.” Bullying, like many negative behaviors, effects the bottom line, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to create a work culture and daily environment that is not conducive to this type of behavior. There are many steps a company can take to achieve this:
- Have policies and procedures in place to address instances of workplace bullying.
- Create open lines of communication for employees to comfortably and confidently report bully-behavior.
- Offer training for staff and leadership on the subject.
- Take action when cases arise to immediately create the understanding that workplace bullying is a serious matter within the company.
There is still quite a bit of stigma associated to office bullying and a prevalent mentality of “suck it up” in the workplace. But as we’ve established, this is a serious issue that has emotional and financial repercussions. It’s a matter in which many are working hard to shed a greater light on and hopefully we will soon see a day where this behavior is non-existent.
About the Author: Lindsay Konlande currently serves as the Associate Director for Institute of Real Estate Management, Houston Chapter. Lindsay earned her Bachelor Degree in Communication from Texas A&M and has 8+ years of experience in marketing, public relations and copywriting.