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How To Handle Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying can have an enormous impact on your business effecting productivity, staff turnover, absenteeism, morale and your employer brand.

Bullying should be addressed very early. Positive workplace behaviours such as clear communication, instant feedback and defining and driving core values can assist with setting the scene for a positive and inclusive culture. Bullying can often stem from the structure of an organization as well as over work and a ‘blame culture’. Sometimes managers may feel that ‘bullying’ is the only way to get their team to perform so organizations need to lead the way, showing management how positive behavior can also drive results and even increase productivity, staff morale and efficiencies.

Workplace bullying is defined as ‘repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.’

Workplace bullying might include:

  • Persistent singling out of one person;
  • Giving someone too little work, too much work, setting unrealistic deadlines, withholding information or being vague about assignments;
  • Personal insults, publicly or privately;
  • Not allowing the person to defend themselves, interrupting them;
  • Any physical abuse, including obscene gestures, attacks, door blocking etc.;
  • Taking credit for the persons work;
  • Highlighting errors made by someone;
  • Spreading rumors or gossip;
  • Interfering with the persons job, i.e. tampering with their communications or ruining their work;
  • Name-calling;
  • Making someone feel unwelcome;
  • There are many more examples of workplace bullying that can be found online.

What can be done?

Human Resources need to drive a culture where staff are encouraged to report any bullying behavior.

How can Human Resources encourage such behavior?

  1. Implement a zero-tolerance bullying policy.  This policy should be taken seriously at all levels of management. The policy is to ensure that all employees understand that any bullying behavior will not be tolerated in the workplace. The policy should include all behaviors that would be considered ‘workplace bullying’ and have it known that actions will be taken against the bully if the Bullying policy is violated.
  2. Raise awareness about workplace bullying. You can have orientation meetings and regular trainings regarding workplace bullying. This should be done so that all employees are aware about the seriousness of this issue. Furthermore, you can consider raising awareness about workplace bullying through newsletters, blogs and anti-bullying events at the office. All employees should be able to recognize this behavior immediately and the issue can be addressed.
  3. Address concerns and complaints immediately and seriously. Develop procedures for investigating and addressing workplace bullying. Understand that it is your responsibility to provide a healthy, productive and effective work environment for your employees. All complaints are worthy of your attention and should be investigated seriously, even if they seem to come from overly sensitive employees.
  4. Encourage management and employee interaction. Employees should feel comfortable addressing serious issues to their superiors and HR. With better interaction, management will be able address issues immediately the victim will not feel alone.
  5. Hold bullies accountable for their action. Do not punish the victims for what the bullies are doing to them.  Be empathetic and listen to the victims. Do note that it takes courage for victims to make a formal complaint. It is your responsibility to provide support to the victims.
  6. Define what a culture of dignity and respect would look like in practice and speak to your staff about this.  Ensure the leadership team is championing these values and providing positive support and recognition for staffs achievements.
  7. Understand that some managers may not define their behavior as bullying. Often the bully may think they are just doing their job. They may believe that their bullying tactics are the only way to motivate their team and to get the job done. The solution here is showing the bully that there are more effective and positive management styles that will get the job done more efficiently and with a greater positive impact on the business as a whole.

Building a positive work environment promotes reward, encourages participation at all staff levels and ensures staff are treated with dignity and respect. Line managers play an integral role in ensuring that positive behaviours are clearly communicated, promoted and supported. Training is necessary at all levels to stamp out bullying in an organization, staff need to see that victims are dealt with quickly, fairly and transparently.  It is imperative that both HR and Management are promoting the positive behaviours they would like to see modeled across the organization as a whole.

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