Preventing Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying is a harsh reality in many workplaces around the globe. Unlike workplace harassment, bullying is not illegal in most countries, but it can affect an employee’s wellbeing, nonetheless. Employers can implement anti-bullying policies in their wellness program to provide their employees a less stressful and safer work environment.

SHRM defines bullying as “persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behavior or unfair actions directed at another individual, causing the recipient to feel threatened, abused, humiliated, or vulnerable”.

In their 2012 Workplace Bullying Survey, SHRM reported that 51% of employers experienced incidents of bullying in the workplace. This significant number suggests that employers should take active steps to prevent bullying in their workplace.

Harassment versus bullying

Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Harassment can occur between colleagues, from a manager or supervisor, or from a vendor or client.

Bullying, on the other hand, involves many of the same offenses, but is often covert, and involves trivial criticisms or isolated actions. Many employers don’t take bullying in the workplace seriously, but the effects are often just as devastating on employees as any other form of harassment.

Effects of bullying

Bullying has been shown to induce many stress-related disorders and conditions. Many bullied employees will experience reduced self-esteem, anxiety, sleeping and digestive disturbances, an increase of absences from work, and musculoskeletal problems. Chronic bullying may also result in more serious conditions in some employees, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, phobias, and depression.

Employees’ behaviors and moods ultimately affect their employer. Many companies report a decrease in overall employee morale among staff, decreased productivity, high costs of investigations, and higher turnover.

Implementing anti-bullying tactics

Employers can take steps to protect their employees by implementing an anti-bullying policy. Below are some elements that should be addressed:

Add an anti-bullying policy to your workplace harassment policy – Describe clear examples of bullying in your policy, and make it accessible for all employees to view.

Add your anti-bullying policy to your Code of Conduct – The Code of Conduct is an integral part of your company’s culture; incorporating the policy here will give it greater strength and importance.

Train all managers, supervisors, and employees – Train the entire staff on what actions or behaviors constitute bullying, and inform them of the implemented policy. Managers and supervisors should receive additional training on how to handle bullying claims and their confidentiality.

Create a reporting process and include it in your policy – Outline the procedures for reporting incidences of bullying. Maintain an open door policy and make sure employees are aware of it. Remind your employees that retaliation against reports is not tolerated.

Investigate and follow up with all incidences – Your procedures should be consistent, and mirror ones used for sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination claims.

Discipline all bullies appropriately – All bullies should be treated the same, no matter what level they are in the organisation. Suspension and termination should be used as disciplinary measures for repeated offenders or greater offenses.

The bottom line

Bullying is a growing problem among corporations all over the world. Research has shown that bullying can result in many stress-induced conditions and disorders, very similar to those found in employees suffering from other forms of harassment. HR professionals should inform their staff about the dangers of bullying, and take necessary steps to implement a policy against it. A “no tolerance” attitude against bullying can ensure a happier, engaged, and more productive workforce in the long run.

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