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Published on Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Bullying Doesn’t Just Happen on the Playground

Author: Heather Nezich

School bullying is now a household term recognized widely, but what about workplace bullying?  Workplace bullying has affected 27% of workers according to a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute.  The majority of workplace bullies are bosses, and 72% of employers deny, discount, defend, or rationalize the bullying.  61% of victims wind up losing their jobs as a result.

Workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators: abusive conduct that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse, or threatening, intimidating or humiliating behaviors (including nonverbal), or work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done, or some combination of one or more.”

Workplace bullies often attack because they feel threatened by the victim’s perceived threat.  It’s often the best and brightest workers who are attacked.  Most often, the abuser is in a position of power to deprive his or her target of a livelihood, making it an abuse of authority.  HR needs to be aware and know the signs that signal that bullying might be occurring and be able to decipher if it’s truly bullying that’s occurring or criticism perhaps being presented improperly or being taken the wrong way by the employee.  Signs of true bullying may include:

·       High staff turnover in his/her department

·       Increased staff illness

·       Increase in disciplinary actions

·       Stress breakdown by employees

·       Reduced customer service

·       Customer complaints

·       Ill health retirements in the department

·       Early retirements

Additional signals to be aware of are managers that: consistently blame others for problems, have unpredictable moods, give conflicting instructions, display random decision-making, and are unwilling to communicate with staff. They’ll often claim their target has a poor attitude, poor performance, or a personality clash.  Be leery when such claims are made – especially if this seems out of the norm for this employee.  Bullying is often disguised as two people in a conflict or with conflicting personalities.  But this is not two people of equal power who simply disagree on one or several issues.  Bullying is typically unilaterally instigated by someone of power against a victim who cannot respond with equal force.

It is important for organizations to have an anti-bullying policy in place to protect both themselves and the employee.  The difference between good and bad employers isn’t that good employers never experience harassment or bullying; it’s that they address it by investigating fairly and promptly.  The policy should clearly describe what bullying is, state that it will not be tolerated, and address possible reprimands.  For a sample anti-bullying policy, click here.

This policy should be separate from any anti-harassment policy that exists.  Bullying and harassment are two very different things.  Bullying rarely focuses on gender, race, or disability.  Instead, it tends to be directed to the most competent employees.  The victim is often well-liked and popular in the workplace.  The bully often feels inadequate and projects these feelings onto their victim in order to direct attention away from themselves. 

In addition to a written policy, it’s also important to hold regular training sessions for leadership as well as staff.  Employees should be trained to recognize and report it.  Managers should be educated and coached on how to give constructive feedback that is not likely to be misunderstood as bullying.

The only states that have any bullying legislation currently are Utah, Tennessee, and California; but  employers should prepare for any future legislation by implementing anti-bullying policies.


Sources: laborandemploymentlawcounsel.com, bullyonline.org, huffingtonpost.com, healthyworkplacebill.org


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