Workplace Bullying and How to Stop It

No one ever said you had to be your employees’ best friend. Sometimes you have to call them out for lack of production, ask them to redo work that doesn’t meet your standards, or even fire them. But when a strict management style crosses the line into workplace bullying, the entire organization suffers.

It’s not just managers; workplace bullies can be found in the executive suite all the way down to the reception desk. Effective managers cultivate workplaces that are free from bullying, but it’s important for everyone involved to learn how to deal with bullies at work.

What Exactly Is Workplace Bullying?

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines it as repeated abusive conduct against one or more individuals (referred to as “targets”) that causes stress, hurts morale, or results in other adverse effects. It can take many different forms, typically driven by the bully’s desire to control their target(s), including:

  • Intimidation, humiliation, or threats;
  • Interference or sabotage of the target’s work; or
  • Verbal abuse.

An estimated 61 percent of Americans are aware of abusive workplace conduct and roughly two out of five U.S. workers are bullied, according to WBI’s 2017 U.S. workplace survey. Of those who are bullied, 40 percent claim to have suffered adverse health effects as a result, while two-thirds of the targets lost their jobs in order to get away from it.

The Importance of Written Workplace Bullying Policies

A written policy won’t necessarily prevent bullying, but it can serve as the basis for any corrective measures that may need to be taken when it does occur. A workplace bullying policy should spell out how the company defines this behavior, including examples, and what steps workers — and managers — can take to address instances of bullying. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides a helpful template.

Bullying can constitute seemingly minor acts that, taken alone, don’t explicitly violate workplace rules. For example, a manager who repeatedly ignores one employee or “forgets” to invite them to meetings may be acting as a bully. A well-written anti-bullying policy puts everyone “on notice” and can be revisited when addressing an accused bully.

Examples of workplace bullying include the use of abusive language, insults, spreading rumors, making unreasonable criticisms, isolating people, belittling suggestions, and playing practical jokes. The context is what really matters, however, as these acts typically constitute a pattern or abusive behavior.

How to Deal With Bullies at Work

Despite best intentions, including a written policy and active measures to cultivate a bully-free environment, there’s no way to guarantee a harmonious workplace. So when bullying is suspected or reported, it’s important for supervisors to take it seriously and act quickly (though carefully).

First, take take measures to keep the target safe, perhaps by moving them to a location away from the alleged bully. Then, conduct a “checkup” of the workplace climate, suggests Gary Namie, author of The Bully-Free Workplace: Stop Jerks, Weasels & Snakes from Killing Your Organization (Wiley, 2011). While some employees may side with bullies as a form of protection, assessing everyone’s perspective — while not making it seem like an interrogation — can clue you into what’s really going on.

If the facts indicate that the accused did indeed cross the line, then that individual should apologize to the target and face other potential consequences (up to and including termination). Depending on the severity of the bullying, it may be appropriate to provide the target with counseling, paid time off, or other support. Supervisors should also always keep an eye on retribution after the fact. Just because employees may have reached a resolution doesn’t mean that one (or both) aren’t harboring resentments.

Want to Stop Workplace Bullying and Improve Morale? We Can Help

Bullying is the enemy of teamwork and innovation and can sap motivation. If you’re not careful, it can also expose your company to litigation. It’s not always easy to spot bullying or to know how to address it, but you do have an important ally on your side. Here at Monster, we have information and resources that can help you improve your workplace and the recruitment strategy that fills it. Learn how you can get free expert resources today, from the latest insights into management strategies to recruiting tips, and much more.