How to Stop Workplace Bullying

How to Stop Workplace Bullying

Don’t tolerate workplace bullying! Unfortunately, most of us have seen or experienced a workplace bully.

Thirty percent of Americans suffer from workplace bullying. This percentage equates to 79.3 million abused workers! And 19% witness bullying, 49% are affected, and 66% are aware that workplace bullying happens. How can leaders and employees make a positive change? These 2021 U.S. Workplace Survey statistics shared by the Workplace Bullying Institute are both alarming and disturbing.

Leaders, human resources, and management must lead the way in developing a culture where bullying behavior is unacceptable regardless of their job title or who they are.

Training employees in civility helps build a workplace culture of respect where bullying and harassment have a clear zero-tolerance policy.

All employees must have a safe workplace. Not only safe from physical abuse but also safe to be who they are. All employees should know they aren’t alone and always have leadership support. Bullying quickly damages a healthy, safe environment.

Unfortunately, a bully or harasser can be anywhere in an organization. They are found in any department and at any level in the organization. Sadly, bullying happens far, far more often than is reported to management.

Effective training combined with the proper policies and accountability helps instill a corporate culture of respect and civility — making workplace bullying virtually nonexistent.

What Constitutes Workplace Bullying?

Too often, people assume that if they don’t see schoolyard-style bullying, it isn’t happening. Or they have bullying mixed up with harassment. A little clarity helps in understanding what the real underlying problem is.

Bullying is a pattern of abusive conduct meant to belittle, humiliate, or intimidate a targeted individual or individuals. It can show up as a general air of incivility and disrespect, or more severe verbal abuse, like insults or threats.

What Does Workplace Bullying Look Like?

Just as there are countless ways to be kind to co-workers, there are numerous ways for workplace bullies to act out. Bullying covers a range of specific behaviors, some of which can be instantly recognizable:

Some behaviors are less overt and harder to pinpoint or prove:

Certain kinds of bullying are specific to the workplace:

Workplace Bullying vs. Harassment

Bullying and harassment are often thought of as the same thing. But they aren’t. Bullying is the more general term for repeated, abusive conduct. Actions cross into the realm of harassment when the target is in a protected class.

Harassment is illegal. While bullying may be against company policies, it is generally not illegal. However, when the target is one or more people in a protected class, the laws are more specific. State laws do vary, but in most parts of the United States, there are laws against workplace harassment due to sex, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, ability, or age.

“But It’s Just Banter!”

Many employees can handle some teasing from their co-workers — in fact, it can become a way to bond. In these cases, a little light-hearted banter can make the workplace a little more fun and less “sterile.”

But do employees who complain that they can’t even banter in today’s politically correct environment have a point? No. Banter only works when there is already a high level of trust, comfort, and mutual respect among the parties. And it must be mutual. If the teasing appears to go in just one direction, or if it makes one of the parties noticeably uncomfortable, it is clearly a case of bullying.

If it’s difficult to tell if the act is workplace bullying or just friendly banter, err on the side of caution. Treat it as if it’s bullying.

Even if the teasing is in jest, the comments might still be inappropriate. There are many ways to bond and be humorous without making fun of someone’s race, gender, or physical features.

Results of Bullying

Workplace bullies have an uncanny ability to recognize targets who are unlikely to fight back or retaliate. The victim may feel helpless to change the situation and remain silent because of a bully’s intimidation tactics. Or they might remain silent due to the perception that going to upper management or Human Resources will be futile. Whatever the reason, ongoing bullying will affect the workplace in detrimental ways.

Feeling trapped in the situation might result in a target’s tardiness or frequent absences. Their work product can suffer. According to the National Library of Medicine, the employee’s mental health may decline. The emotional and psychological consequences of workplace bullying may include increased mental distress, sleep disturbances, fatigue or a lack of vigor, depression and anxiety, adjustment disorders, and even work-related suicide. When the pressure becomes too great for some, they’ll search for another job. A company could lose its best and brightest employees as casualties to incivility in the workplace.

If bullied employees do retaliate, it can be equally destructive to the working environment. A new set of problems can surface, ranging from passive-aggressive behavior to outright physical violence.

Bad employee morale, low productivity, and high turnover can not only turn a company into an unpleasant place to work but will ultimately affect the bottom line.

Prime Targets for Workplace Bullies

Control is at the heart of workplace bullying. Toxic employees will usually “pick on” non-confrontational, introverted, or quiet employees. The bully believes they will not fight back or report them. Their bullying crosses the line into harassment when it involves traits like race, sex, or other inherent factors that make the bully feel superior. But the target could also be someone perceived as a threat as the bully hopes to gain or maintain their job. Targets can be:

5 Steps to Stop Workplace Bullying

There is a reason why some organizations are known as great places to work. They have no doubt established a corporate culture of respect and civility. When civility is the norm, potential bullies will know that abusive behavior is unacceptable. Managers, bystanders, and potential victims are better equipped to deal with inappropriate behavior if it occurs. Here are 5 steps on how to stop workplace bullying:

#1. Define and communicate expectations.

Companies must enforce crystal-clear policies on how they expect employees to behave toward one another and the consequences of bad behavior. If a bully can’t or will not change their actions, they need to know there is no place for them in the organization. Most importantly, the consequences must be consistently followed. Define bullying and company policies, such as appropriate disciplinary action. Clearly state the definition and policy in the employee handbook and training sessions. Management should also lead by example.

#2. Understand unconscious bias.

A lot of bullying and harassment stems from unconscious bias. Being aware of how unconscious bias about things like gender, skin color, age, and height influences employees’ actions can be the first step toward a more harmonious workplace.

HSI and Blue Ocean Brain, an HSI Company, have courses to help employees understand and confront those unconscious biases. Several suggested courses are Cultural Intelligence, The Mistake of Stereotyping, and The Power of Inclusion, to name a few.

#3. Explain the organization’s commitment to diversity.

For some, working on unconscious biases is enough. However, some employees might not understand why or how an organization benefits from employing people of different races, religions, ethnicities, or genders. Management needs to explain the value and demonstrate commitment in their actions.

Offering training courses on diversity can help illustrate the company’s dedication to diversity. Check out HSI’s course library for our diversity lessons. To further boost learner engagement and retention, follow up with ongoing microlearning from Blue Ocean Brain. The expert-developed content reflects the organizational culture and skills gaps and guides the employees on the journey to inclusion and belonging.

#4. Encourage an atmosphere of civility.

Behaviors, both good and bad, trickle down through an organization. Leaders need to set a good example by modeling respectful behavior. When upper management says “please” and “thank you,” listens, refrains from playing favorites, and shows common courtesy, it goes a long way in telling employees, “This is how we do things here.”

HSI’s and Blue Ocean Brain’s courses on respect in the workplace help both managers and employees learn better ways to show common courtesy through their speech and behavior.

#5. Stop bullying as soon as it is detected.

Managers and Human Resources must be observant. So must employees. If employees know the behavioral cues to watch out for, they can stop most bullying before it becomes a serious issue. Training managers and employees on the warning signs of workplace bullying with bystander training can make a difference.

Workplace bullies can harm an organization’s culture and their public reputation. Training can make all the difference between a healthy corporate culture where all employees can feel free to be themselves and a toxic one where they are afraid, feel alone, and don’t know what’s coming next from the bully.

HSI Can Help!

Ready to stop bullying in the workplace? We recommend teaching about preventing bullying and learning the “why” behind it. When employees understand why bullying happens and how to identify it, organizations have a higher chance of preventing it. Offer courses on warning signs, bystander training, and ways to build a healthy culture.

Here’s just some of the wide variety of HSI’s and Blue Ocean Brain’s training courses:

Many clients want to go beyond the bare minimum and the “check the box” approach. They want employees to be safe. Safe from harassment and discrimination. Safe from workplace bullying and physical violence. They want employees to feel safe so they can be creative and innovative. Our clients go beyond compliance to a well-rounded employee development program. They open the entire library so employees can access training at any time. They can rewatch required courses and search for the topics they are personally interested in.

Our HSI LMS is mobile-first and learner-first. Employees can access it at any time and at their own pace. Human Resources departments can build a workplace culture of trust and continuous learning, access and track training, and protect your company’s brand and reputation. Consistent training can have a direct impact on the company’s bottom line.

For more information on the best way HSI can help, request a free trial of our LMS.

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