Understanding harassment and bullying in the workplace

We live in a time when people of all walks of life want to be seen and accepted as equals not just in life, but in the workforce, too. For the most part, individuality is promoted and accepted throughout most work environments mainly because of modern times and current laws that protect employees from harassment and abuse.

You would think with as much diversity as there is in the world, having a bully amongst staff would be a rarity, but, as much as we would like to think the world has changed, in reality, there are still people who believe in the “Good ole boy” system.

Go back if you will to the early 1900’s when “colored’s” were separated from the “whites” in work, on buses, in schools,and the world in general. Today, this seems pretty far-fetched to wrap our minds around the fact there was a time when people placed other people in categories, and if the “lower-end” crossed the line, there would be trouble to pay.

Defining Harassment and bullying

Bullying in the workplace can happen on any level of the chain of command. Just because an individual is an executive doesn’t mark him or her off the list of the potential perpetrator or for that matter, the recipient of bullying.

The definition of a workplace bully is any person(s) who repeatedly direct negative, degrading, embarrassing and/or humiliating behavior towards a colleague with the intention to cause harm or undermine the person’s work performance.

Bullying is real, and it happens on many levels more than you know. It is important that management learns to recognize the growing epidemic and address bullying behavior head-on to provide employees with a healthier productive environment for yourself and your staff.

Workplace bullies goal differs from person-to-person. They often reel others in to participate in the endeavor hoping to give themselves more power over their victims. The more common tactics used are:

  • Strenuous work demands
  • Putdowns
  • Jobs loss threats
  • Wrongfully blaming others
  • Insults
  • Lessening accomplishments

When you think of a bully, you think about the playground where one child pushes another or beats that child up in front of others causing humiliation. In today’s world, it’s much more severe than this school ground scenario.

Extreme repercussions due to bullying

We have seen a progression in the consequences associated with bullying through the media in the last twenty years. The rise of murder/suicides has reached record highs where a disgruntled employee that was the victim of harassment snaps and turns on anyone without reach at their place of employment.

It’s situations such as these being the reason; bullying needs to be hit head-on before it is allowed to get out of hand. Bullies create a  negative atmosphere within a workplace organization with their degrading, sometimes aggressive behavior.

Their behaviors lead to escalated stress levels among other employees, higher attrition and higher rates of turnovers and absenteeism. Because bullies in management positions get results by short-term production from their staff, they remain employed without retribution from upper management.

When management plays the role of a bully

The most common bullying in a workplace is the superior employee displaying harsh treatment towards a worker that is under their command. Bullies typically run the least productive crews within the workplace and show the least amount of concern for their staff.

When you have a corporate bully in place, you will see a lot of health problems, stress issues among staff and overall negative morale. It is important to listen to employees that work under a manager that receives a lot of complaints or has a lot of employees take sick leave.

Having the proper training to recognize bullying behavior is the key. Many situations you have co-workers that have climbed the ranks together that will turn a blind-eye on a fellow employee they see bullying to avoid conflict with that person.

The following are signs to watch for that signify more than a personal disagreement or misunderstanding.  These behaviors include:

  • Name calling
  • Raising their voice, whether to customers or colleagues
  • Disrespectful or belittling comments
  • Excessive criticizing, monitoring or nitpicks the work of others
  • Withholding information that is needed to perform a task efficiently
  • Deliberately overloading someone with work
  • Sabotaging projects
  • Excluding peers from everyday activities
  • Deliberately adding more work than the employee can handle

Bullying affects the entire workplace

It is important to know that bullying at a workplace affects more than just the person on the receiving end. It changes the whole dynamics of business. The cost associated with bullying run deeper than what can appear on the surface.

The cost related to replacing staff members that quit due to bullying can run out of control. Not only do you lose valued employees, but you also have the expense of replacing that employee. There is the cost due to lack of production, the marketing expense for replacing the employee and the cost of new hires and their training.

Unless the cycle of abusive behavior breaks, the pattern will usually continue, escalating each time. Bullys learn how to hide in the background so not to get noticed and have a learned behavior of getting away with tactics of belittling others.

Combating bullying within your company

The first rule of thumb is to make no exceptions for disciplinary actions for the bully. Whether the perpetrator is your number one employee or the last person on the totem pole, repercussions should be the same on every level.

All wellness and health employee packet should implement a zero tolerance harassment and bully policy. Encourage employees to discuss the policy to ensure management is to follow protocol on all levels

Hold orientation meetings often regarding bullying and harassment paired with an open door policy, making sure each employee understands they are responsible for their actions and that workplace bullying is not accepted.

Make “anonymous phone lines or comment boxes” available to employees to give every employee the opportunity to file a complaint without feeling the pressure if the bully is their immediate supervisor.

Learn the signs of bullying and how to intervene when you suspect an employee is bullying a co-worker. Implement management tools and training for a safe, healthy work environment for all employees.