Workplace Bullies

The workplace has always had bullies, and they are not always bosses. According to a recent survey, 35 percent of U.S. workers have experienced or witnessed bullying. The survey found that 62 percent of bullies are men; 38 percent are women. Women make up 58 percent of the targets; men make up 42 percent.

However, men bully men more frequently than they bully women (55.5 percent), and women usually bully other women (80 percent). Workers ages 30 to 49 are the most frequent targets of bullying.

The costs of bullying alone are a call to action for employers because bullies are expensive. Loss of productivity is one immediate consequence. Also, victims of bullying are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, burnout, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

There are many types of bullying behaviors; here are some of the most common examples:

Falsely accusing the person of errors made or insubordination.
Staring, glaring or other nonverbal demonstrations of hostility.
Excluding a person by refusing to communicate with them or leaving them out of activities.
Yelling, screaming or humiliating the target, often in front of others.
Making up arbitrary standards that the bully does not follow or that do not apply to others.
Encouraging others to turn against the individual targeted.
Stealing credit for work.
Retaliating after a complaint is filed.
Imposing unrealistic demands/deadlines.
Sabotaging

Employers should look at bullying as a hazard to health and a potential form of illegal harassment. Thus, as a legal defense, you should be able to show that you took all reasonable steps to prevent bullying and offered avenues of redress that employees unreasonably failed to use. The following are seven basic steps you should consider taking to prevent and address workplace bullying:

Adopt a policy prohibiting bullying behaviors, listing examples of the types of behaviors that should not occur at work. If there is a policy regarding workplace violence, the bullying policy should be added to this policy. Publicize the policy to employees.

Add a ban against bullying behavior to the code of conduct. Make sure all employees see the code of conduct.
Provide a written reporting process for incidents of bullying that offers multiple avenues for reporting bullying behavior. Make sure employees are aware of this process.

Make sure that reported incidents are investigated and that follow-up remedial action is taken. The investigations and follow-up should mirror the process for sexual harassment and discrimination claims.

Make sure employees who complain about bullying are protected from retaliation. This means that the person accused of bullying must be counseled specifically to avoid engaging in behaviors that would be reasonably perceived as retaliatory. There should also be follow-up with the victim to make sure unreported retaliation is not occurring.

Discipline bullies; if appropriate, terminate them.

Train HR professionals and managers to recognize bullying behaviors and to develop techniques to address bullying. Notably, studies of workplace bullying emphasize that poorly informed HR professionals and managers have made bullying worse by appearing to excuse the conduct or by minimizing its importance.

SESCO Management Consultants is available to assist with your human resource issues. You may contact us by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .