Stop Bullying in Your Workplace

Bullying in the workplace is much more common than people think. Three in ten people have experienced it, and it can go on for an extended period. Often, the person being targeted experiences a host of physical and emotional effects because of it: high blood pressure, panic attacks, ulcers, and more.

Corporate policies for bullying run from nebulous to non-existent. Some progressive companies have anti-bullying policies, but, in general, the corporate world still has a long way to go—especially when you consider that leaders make up 61% of bullies.

Bullies typically victimize people whom they see as a threat. Common causes of bullying include performance issues, compensation, and unconscious biases. Protected groups, such as minorities and people with disabilities, are more likely to bear the brunt of bullying. Making things more difficult: the bully is often unsure of what is causing their bad behavior.

Bullying on the Rise

Incidences of bullying have increased in recent years. COVID, in conjunction with considerable social unrest, has created a pressure cooker situation for everyone. As a result, people are experiencing decreased feelings of safety and security.

In times of great change like this, our insecurities typically rise to the forefront and bad behaviors crop up in all parts of society. The bullies are out and your people are suffering because of them.

Here are some tactics you can use to address bullying in your workplace.

Create an Anti-Bullying Policy and Training Program

Companies need to take a stance on bullying just like they have on diversity and inclusion. One thing leaders can do is create and enforce anti-bullying policies that complement their anti-harassment policies. Every employee should undergo periodic anti-bullying training.

Helping people discover their unconscious biases should be a central part of any anti-bullying training. This includes how to recognize when they feel threatened and knowing common behaviors of bullies.

Have an Open-Door Policy

People need to feel comfortable and confident that they can talk to their leaders. They need to be able to say “This is happening to me in the workplace and it’s making me feel miserable.”

HR professionals need to let everyone know they are available to help—especially if a leader is the source of bullying. HR needs to extend a warm welcome to everyone and let employees know their concerns will be taken seriously and kept in confidence.

Demonstrate Executive Commitment

Leadership must make a demonstrated commitment to stopping bullying in the workplace. The executive team should demonstrate behaviors that are positive, approachable, inclusive, and constructive. People will emulate their example and recognize that aggressive behaviors are not tolerated.

Never underestimate the power of leading by example. People tend to imitate the behaviors of those more senior to them. Consider this and think of the impact your executive team can have on your people.

Enforce Zero Tolerance

Some leaders may wonder if they need to enforce a zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy or if being a role model is sufficient. To be clear, it is the leader’s responsibility to set norms and enforce rules. It’s also everyone’s responsibility in the organization to be on the lookout for harmful behaviors.

It’s one thing to tell a person their actions are not compliant with a policy. That is the right thing to do. But leaders must take it a step further and state the actions are not compliant with who they are as an organization. Making it clear the person’s actions are not in harmony with corporate values is the heart of the matter.

Support an Inclusive Environment

An inclusive environment is a powerful antidote to bullying behavior, but creating one takes considerable self-awareness on the part of leaders. First, leaders need to take an inventory of themselves and the individuals on their team and reflect on any similarities and differences. Then, they need to make sure the unique qualities of each person are welcomed and respected.

When leaders are successful, they will have created a transparent and open environment where people feel there are no threats to their well-being. There is ample research that shows companies experience tremendous benefits when they create this kind of culture.

Accomplishing this depends on leaders who have established trusting relationships with their people. Victims feel vulnerable in bullying situations and will confide only in someone they trust. To be trusted on this level, leaders must demonstrate inclusive behavior, enforce zero tolerance, and be supported by organization-wide training and education. Then they can initiate a conversation by asking the person how they’re feeling about a situation or encouraging them to speak directly with HR.

Bullying has no place in the workplace. It’s destructive to a company and to an individual. The good news is that you can put an end to it in your corner of the world.

About the Author

Kristin Brookins Costello

Kristin Brookins Costello is the Chief Human Resources Officer at The Ken Blanchard Companies®. She is responsible for the strategic planning, development, and implementation of Blanchard’s people strategies and its overall human capital experience. As the leader of the Human Resources, Internal Communications, and Learning & Development functions, Kristin works to drive people initiatives related to organizational performance that shape a strong culture of results, continuous improvement, and growth.

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