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Managing Bullying at Work

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When we think of bullying we envision a playground with one or more children picking on another child, possibly taking their lunch money or excluding them from play activities.  While this may be a valid bullying scenario, today’s bullying is much more extreme, intense, and is not limited to the playground.

In a recent survey of more than 400 randomly selected member organizations of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), slightly more than half (51%) reported incidents of bullying in their workplace and approximately 18% reported an increase in frequency of bullying. While workplace bullying is not illegal in many states, that doesn’t mean that bullies can escape responsibility for their persistent threatening, intimidating, offensive, and aggressive behaviors. A workplace taking a pro-active approach to diminish and respond to bullying will enable employees to feel less threatened and humiliated as well as to be more productive.

How Will I Know If I Have A Bully In My Work Group?

The majority of workplace bullying is peer to peer, followed by employees being bullied by supervisors and then supervisors being bullied by employees. Additionally, both men and women are bullies and are bullied.

There are many definitions of bullying, but the outcome is the same. Target employees are less productive, feeling less confident, and are less trusting in the workplace. Following are some things to consider about workplace bullies:

A bully tends not to discriminate based on religion, age, race or gender, but more on the basis of competence, popularity, and vulnerability.

A bully handles performance issues by assigning blame and attacking an employee’s character rather than giving objective feedback and providing clear expectations.

A bully tends to attack their targets repeatedly and methodically.

A bully feels a need to control his/her targets by using offensive and abusive behaviors.

A bully will sabotage progress and use intimidation to control their target.

A bully will consistently criticize and single someone out to shame him or her.

A bully will use humor to belittle.

A bully will manage by threats instead of direction.

A bully will tend to engage in ongoing passive-aggressive behavior in which words and actions appear harmless but have the intent to harm or control.

At work, bullying is about power, control and career advancement.

How Should I Respond To Workplace Bullying?

A movement toward minimizing and hopefully eliminating workplace bullying lies in policy development and enforcement. The place to start is to issue a policy against bullying and to educate all employees and supervisors about identifying and responding to disrespectful interactions at work. Senior management and company leaders can foster trust in the workplace by modeling positive behaviors and encouraging teamwork and a supportive environment.

Most policy development and trainings take time to organize, approve and implement. An observant manager who notices a negative change in employees’ behaviors and attitudes should investigate if workplace bullying is occurring. If bullying is evident, early intervention is essential for early recovery.

Following are some steps that can be taken immediately to circumvent a bully:

A workplace taking a pro-active approach to diminish and respond to bullying will enable employees to feel less threatened and humiliated as well as to be more productive.

Maintain a visible presence in work areas so that you can regularly observe interaction among employees.

Intervene when bullying behaviors are first observed to prevent the problem from escalating.

Respond promptly when complaints are made, recognizing that it may be very difficult for the victim of bullying to come forward in the first place.

Be impartial and unbiased during investigations; avoid giving a manager the benefit of the doubt by virtue of his/her position.

Make bullies accountable for their behavior and the expected changes in their behavior.

Set clear expectations about respectful interactions.

Document coaching and feedback.

Refer employees with problematic and questionable behavior to the EAP via the performance referral process.

Remind all employees about the EAP on a regular basis.

Request additional assistance from your Human Resources Department and the EAP if you feel that you are also being intimidated by a bully.

How can the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Help?

PAS provides confidential counseling, coaching and support for all employees. The EAP is easily accessed 24/7 by calling (800) 356-0845 to speak with a counselor immediately. PAS can assist in many ways by providing:

Guidance to a supervisor in confronting a workplace bully and assisting the workgroup to heal from the impact of a bully.

Education for employees about respectful interactions at work through on-site training.

A confidential, supportive resource for employees and their families who have experienced bullying, offering professional counseling and life management coaching as a prepaid benefit.

A resource for supervisors and managers to formally refer employees who need to change their behaviors to PAS for confidential assistance. This process fosters a partnership between the manager and PAS through the exchange of information about the referred employee’s behavior change at work and his or her progress in following the EAP action plan.

Should you witness bullying, take action. Don’t wait for the situation to “take care of itself” or for the targeted employee to speak up, work out the problem for him/herself or confront the bully alone. A workgroup in which employees feel safe and happy is more trusting of management, more productive, and has less absenteeism and turnover.

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Bullying in the Workplace Study

More than 400 randomly selected member organizations were surveyed as part of a two-part series of SHRM survey findings on workplace bullying and violence. One-half  (51%) of organizations reported that there had been incidents of bullying in their workplace. The three most common outcomes of bullying incidents that organizations reported were decreased morale (68%), increased stress and/or depression levels (48%) and decreased trust among co-workers (45%).  Other findings from the study:

18% reported an increase in frequency of bullying over the last 2 years

38% of companies surveyed reported an increase in employee turnover due to bullying

37% of companies reported an increase in complaints of distrust in management

42% of companies reported a decrease in productivity

38% reported an increase in turnover

23% reported an increase in absenteeism

Personal Assistance Services

(800) 356-0845

This article is not intended to be construed as legal advice, but is provided as an overview of good business practices.