The current presidential race has often been overtaken with name calling and bullying tactics. Many workplaces are taking this as an opportunity to reexamine their policies on harassment and the hostile work environment.
- Is bullying ever acceptable in the workplace?
- Are there laws against workplace bullying?
- What’s the difference between a tough, demanding boss and a boss who bullies?
- What can, or should, businesses be doing about workplace bullying?
These are important questions to ask, and we’ve got the answers you need to keep bullying out of your business!
Facts About Bullying in the Workplace:
A survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that:
- 27% of workers have been bullied
- 69% of the bullies are men,
- 60% of the targets are women
- The vast majority of perpetrators are people with some power over their victims
- 56% of the bullies are bosses
What is workplace bullying?
Washington’s Department of Labor & Industries defines workplace bullying as:
Repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s).
Examples they cite include:
- Unwarranted or invalid criticism
- Being sworn at
- Being shouted at or being humiliated
- Being given unrealistic work deadlines, or blame without factual justification
- Being treated differently than others in a work group
- Being excluded
Is workplace bullying illegal?
You may be surprised to learn that in general, workplace bullying is not illegal.
Workplace bullying crosses the legal line when it is harassment based on a protected class, such as race, creed, national origin, sex, age, disability, etc.
But an equal opportunity bully doesn’t violate employment laws. For now.
Laws about workplace bullying may be changing:
The Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham is striving to pass workplace anti-bullying legislation across the country.
Although the Healthy Workplace Bill has not been passed in any state to date, it has been introduced in 30 of them. In Washington, legislation was introduced again this year, but did not pass.
The legislation’s stated purpose is:
To provide legal recourse for employees who have been harmed, psychologically, physically or economically, by being deliberately subjected to abusive work environments, and to provide legal incentives for employers to prevent and respond to mistreatment of employees at work.
If passed, workplace bullying would be on a par with other unfair employment practices, such as discrimination and sexual harassment.
Workplace bullying does actual harm:
Illegal or not, workplace bullying is bad behavior that negatively impacts employees, and thus our businesses.
Studies show that it results in:
- Increased stress for employees
- Reduced self-esteem
- Family tension
Workplace bullying can an even have physical affects on victims.
Clearly, when an employee is working in such a negative situation, they will not be able to perform at their best!
Workplace bullying harms businesses:
Workplace bullying doesn’t just affect targeted workers. Its consequences go well beyond individuals, impacting the entire organization.
- Employees lose the initiative to be creative and take risks, instead focusing their time and energy on protecting themselves.
- Targeted employees will most likely jump ship at the first opportunity, resulting in expensive workforce turnover.
- As a company copes with bullying behavior, productive time and effort is squandered upon managing the situation.
Companies need Workplace Bullying Policies
To combat workplace bullying, companies need to start by establishing expectations of behavior for the entire staff.
Many businesses include a Workplace Bullying Policy as part of their company’s Workplace Violence Policy, but it can also stand on its own.
A Workplace Bullying Policy should:
Specifically define what actions constitute bullying and will not be allowed.
By including specific examples, it helps everyone understand the difference between bullying behavior and tough, high performance expectations.
For example: a policy might not tolerate obscene gestures and language towards an individual, shouting at someone, personal insults, public humiliation, ignoring, sabotage and threats.
Make it clear that the policy extends to everyone within the company, including all members of management:
It’s important to emphasize that your workplace bullying policy includes all managers, and to spell out a process that a employee can follow to make a complaint. Employees need to feel that they will still be safe and secure in their jobs if they make a complaint about bullying.
Just as you would conduct an investigation of harassment, perform the same thorough and fair investigation of bullying complaints.
How can companies respond to workplace bullying?
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has identified some common ways businesses try to cope with a workplace bully:
- Management may try to give the bully what she wants, hoping that will appease her and end the behavior.
- Sometimes blame is misplaced, either on the targeted employee who is complaining, or by spreading the blame amongst all parties.
- Ignoring the bully in hopes that they’ll stop bullying.
- Asking everyone to try to work better as a team are also common responses.
How should we respond to these types of situations in our own businesses?
What did our parents tell us to do when we were bullied at school? Stand up to the bully and let them know you won’t put up with it!
The same actions need to happen in our workplaces. Management, especially senior management, needs to establish a zero-tolerance policy, stating that all employees have a right to work in a positive environment.
The difference between a good boss & a bullying boss:
A boss has a right to hold employees accountable and to set high performance standards. Bosses should not be afraid to give honest performance feedback, or to provide correction and discipline as warranted.
A bullying boss is more concerned with his own self-interest than the organization’s, does not treat all employees the same, misuses power and may verbally assault employees.
What can you do when a workplace bully is a manager?
Oftentimes, workplace bullies are strong corporate contributors, or even members of management. Despite the importance of someone’s role within a company, action still needs to happen when a powerful person bullies others.
As soon as a workplace bullying incident happens:
- The bully should be confronted and told the behavior isn’t acceptable.
- The confrontation must be done privately and respectfully.
- The specific behavior should be addressed, as well as the consequences the behavior had on you and others.
- Deal with the facts of the situation, and don’t get drawn into analyzing behavior.
- Lastly, don’t expect the person to change, but make it clear that the behavior itself must change.
What lies ahead for workplace anti-bullying laws?
Who knows whether or not Washington will pass workplace anti-bullying legislation in the future? What does seem clear is, though, is that at some point it is likely to become law.
Many employers worry that it is difficult to clearly define bullying versus bad management or tough bosses, and that it will result in claims from employees who are simply unhappy with their supervisors.
It is also clear that creating a bully-free workplace is simply good management policy, which will undoubtedly increase a company’s productivity and success. That, in and of itself, should be incentive enough!