Bullying doesn’t end with high-school.
Bullying is caused by discrepancies in power. Sometimes the discrepancies are real, like physical size or social status. Sometimes they’re only perceived, like when the victim has low confidence or self-image problems.
In the workplace, like in the schoolyard, discrepancies in power are inevitable. No one is the same size. Everyone has a boss.
While the declared rationale for bullying and harassment changes with age (and really, life does get better), the threat remains.
How your firm responds to the threat of bullying determines the personal, personnel, and organizational consequences of the abuse.
Bullying is always damaging.
For victims, the effects on workplace habits, mental and physical health, and emotional well-being are horrifying and far too numerous to count.
For companies, the dangerous organizational impacts of workplace bullying can be put into five different categories:
Productivity — Employees who live with the constant fear that they’ll be manipulated, belittled, mocked, or humiliated, are not productive. They miss deadlines, make mistakes, and waste time. They spend more time away from work, and are less creative when they’re there. Sadly, this loss of productivity can make the bullying more vicious, effectively adding fuel to the fire in a vicious cycle.
Cost — Low productivity is expensive. So are high turnover, compensation claims, and snowballing health plan fees.
Culture — Poor commitment, low morale, bad teamwork, a poisonous climate, and ineffective communications can all be caused by workplace bullying. They are often the symptoms, and not the causes, of a problem.
Legal — A number of courts and labour tribunals have ruled against employers who did not take sufficient steps to prevent or to stop workplace bullying. Don’t be one of them.
Reputation — The public and the media have a keen eye for disgruntled current and former employees. If a staff member is suffering, it won’t be long before customer relations are too.
Your plan for (and response to) bullying is extremely important. Managers and human resources professionals should ensure that there’s a system in place to oppose, identify, and adjust the negative behaviour.
Some countries (including Canada, Australia, Sweden, Ireland, and the U.K.) have federal laws that define and protect against workplace bullying. The United States does not. While the Healthy Workplace Bill is before the legislatures of a number of states, it has never been passed.
So what are the HR best practices for workplace bullying?
- Organizational policies should explicitly forbid any and all acts of workplace bullying.
- A well-publicized method should exist to anonymously report bullying to a third-party.
- All reports should be followed up.
- Training, as well as exit interviews, should reflect and help assess policy implementation.
- All reported violations should be tracked, so that program successes and shortcomings can be monitored.
When a workplace bullying incident occurs, you should be careful not to exacerbate the problem. Corrective actions should help the guilty party improve their behaviour, without singling them out or further humiliating the victim.
No one likes a bully. Bullying only exists when bystanders allow it. Help stamp it out.