Client Resources

How Should You Handle Workplace Bullying?

Workplace bullying has been defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) as the recurring mistreatment of an employee by one or more co-workers that includes verbal abuse, intimidation, shaming or intentional disruption of work.

Compared by some experts to domestic abuse, workplace bullying can be toxic to your company culture, increase turnover and lower productivity. There are a few steps managers can take if they think workplace bullying is happening at their organization.

Catch bullying whenever possible

If you come across someone berating an employee, you need to intervene. The very least you could do is remove the abusing person from the situation or simply disrupt the episode. Then, deal with it privately to maintain the abuser’s dignity. Furthermore, if someone seeks out your help for what sounds like bullying, do not ignore the request for help.

When you have an alleged bully alone, point out why they need to stop or change their behavior. Mention the effect bullying has on worker morale, productivity, confidence and loyalty. If an anti-bullying policy is in place, remind the person they may have to deal with a formal complaint and investigation process.

As a manager, it is important you do not “bully the bully,” especially before you know all the facts.

Hold bullies accountable

If you’ve tried to change a confirmed bully’s ways and they refuse to modify their behavior, you may need to step in and hold the person accountable.

Your job is much easier if there is a definite policy around what personal conduct is unacceptable. If none exists, develop one with the management team.

Before talking to the bully, offer the targeted person some kind of separation to minimize the chances of retaliation.

Assess the significance of the behavior in terms of how it affects the team’s capacity to do their job. Conduct 1-on-1 interviews with workers to look into the situation and circumstances, as opposed to holding an investigation. Getting information from co-workers might be difficult if they are worried about retaliation for what they say about someone.

Employees may side with the bully for self-protection. Furthermore, bullies will rationalize their behavior, saying things like their target “made them do it” or they “just want things done right.”

Ask employees if they ever had bad encounters with the person and if unsavory situations have been hidden from you. Also, find out if they have seen attitude changes, small or large, in any co-workers.

If the details confirm inappropriate behavior, determine appropriate consequences, for which HR can advise. Also, help the targeted worker move on from the incident through paid time off, counseling or other actions, if necessary.

Don’t foster a culture that lets bullies thrive

The most difficult thing to do is look in the mirror and see if you are somehow encouraging your workers to bully. Are you hands-off when it comes to settling disputes? Do you let strong personalities dominate your office? Are you actually bullying your employees?

Before you call out others for bullying, take a hard look at your own actions and determine if you are the source of bad behavior.

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