Workplace bullying can manifest in various forms, from overt hostility or aggression to subtle, passive-aggressive behaviors that undermine an individual's work performance. Sometimes, it's a power struggle, other times it's a toxic organizational culture that fuels the issue.
Regardless of its form or the conditions that foster it, workplace bullying can have profound effects on an individual's mental health, job satisfaction, and overall well-being. This behavior can lead to a dysfunctional work environment that impacts the larger organization in profound ways.
It's crucial for employers to recognize and address bullying promptly - not just for the sake of the targeted employees, but for the entire organization's health and productivity.
"About 48.6 million Americans have been bullied at work, translating into 30 percent of all adults. During the pandemic, harassment rose higher to 43 percent."
What is Workplace Bullying?
Workplace bullying refers to repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more individuals (targets) by one or more perpetrators in a work environment. Bullying at work can come in many forms.
7 common forms of Bullying:
gossip and rumors
Spreading malicious gossip or rumors not only undermines the person's reputation but also creates a hostile work environment.
Constructive criticism helps individuals grow, but when it becomes excessive and unconstructive, it evolves into bullying.
Bullying can manifest as giving unreasonable workload to an individual, setting impossible deadlines, or constantly changing task requirements.
Purposefully excluding someone from important meetings, team activities, or social events can also be a form of workplace bullying.
Intimidating behavior, such as yelling, threats, or aggressive body language, is a clear sign of workplace bullying.
Belittling or embarrassing someone in front of colleagues is another method of bullying in the workplace.
Deliberately undermining someone's work, such as withholding necessary information or sabotaging projects, is a form of bullying.
A 2021 survey conducted by pollster Zogby Analytics and analyzed by the Workplace Bullying Institute surfaced some concerning insights beyond the sheer prevalence of bullying at work. Among other things, the results found that:
- At 67% males were more likely to exhibit bullying behavior in the work environment, and they more often targeted women (58%) than other men (42%).
- 57% of those in survey believe that the "display of bullying, disrespect and intolerance of the opinions of others by politicians and public figures affected workplaces."
- 63% of survey survey respondents who were employed felt that companies had negative reactions to bullying - rationalizing, denying, or discounting it. Just 37% felt that employers' reactions were positive - showing concern for affected workers, condemning it, and creating/enforcing policies to eliminate it.
What Causes Someone to be a Bully at Work?
There can be many different reasons why someone would bully another at work. Some individuals may not be aware of how their behavior is impacting others, while for some, it is intentional.
Bullying can stem from feelings of frustration or insecurity in the workplace or from a lack of proper training or education on appropriate interpersonal communication and boundaries.
In some cases, it can be a reflection of the dynamics between different groups or individuals in an organization.
impact of bullying in the workplace:
Workplace bullying can have a serious detrimental impact on the individual(s) being targeted. Here are signs of workplace bullying that managers should look for in their employees:
Low Morale and/or job satisfaction
Employees who are being bullied often lack enthusiasm or joy in their work. They may also express feelings of hopelessness or dread about coming to work.
anxiety, stress and other physical/emotional symptoms
Bullying can cause psychological distress in individuals, leading to mood swings, difficulty sleeping, or trouble concentrating.
avoidance of certain people or tasks
If an employee is avoiding particular people or tasks due to fear or anxiety, they may be experiencing workplace bullying.
unexplained loss of energy and productivity
Targeted employees may become less productive due to stress or feeling overwhelmed.
While the impact to the victims of bullying is undeniable, it's also important to realize how unchecked workplace bullying can lead to significant harm to the entire organization.
"Harrison Psychological Associates reports the business costs of bullying to employers where people are harassed, within a 2 year period, is more than $180 million in lost time and productivity."
how bullying impacts employers:
Employees who are being bullied may take more sick days or leave their jobs altogether.
high turnover rates
Employees who are being bullied may be more likely to quit their jobs. This can lead to higher turnover rates, which can be costly for organizations.
Employees who are being bullied may be less productive due to stress or feeling overwhelmed.
Bullying can create a hostile work environment, which can lead to poor morale among employees that extends well beyond the victims.
Workplace bullying can lead to increased conflict among employees. This can disrupt the workplace and make it difficult for employees to get their work done.
hostile work environment
Bullying can create a hostile work environment, which can make it difficult for employees to do their jobs effectively and could lead to legal issues.
decreased customer satisfaction
Employees who are being bullied can damage an organization's reputation, making it more difficult to attract and retain employees and customers.
damage to reputation
Workplace bullying can damage an organization's reputation, making it more difficult to attract and retain employees and customers.
How to Address Workplace Bullying
Managers need to be able to address workplace bullying and put an end to it. In many cases, this is a sensitive issue that may require guidance from the company's HR department.
First and foremost, it's important for managers to acknowledge the situation with the person being bullied, particularly if they came forward with a concern. The 2021 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that many employees feel that organizations do not address bullying adequately, which can lead to further negative consequences.
Acknowledging the issue clearly and with appropriate confidentiality can help affected employees retain (or regain) trust in the organization.
7 tips for how to address an individual who is exhibiting bullying behavior in the workplace:
1. open dialogue
Start by having a conversation with the person accused of bullying. Be open and non-confrontational, expressing concern and giving them a chance to respond.
2. document everything
Make sure to record all instances of bullying, including dates, times, places, what happened, and any witnesses. This will provide substantial evidence if further actions are needed.
3. Provide feedback
Give clear, constructive feedback about the behavior that needs to change. Explain how their actions are affecting others and the organization as a whole.
4. set expectations
Lay down clear expectations for improvement. The individual should understand that bullying behavior will not be tolerated and what the consequences for continued behavior will be.
5. offer support
If appropriate, provide resources for personal development, like anger management or communication skills training.
Regularly check in to see if the behavior has changed and provide feedback. If the bullying continues, escalate according to your company's policies.
7. enforce consequences
If, after following all these steps, the person continues to bully others, then enforce penalties. This could range from a formal warning to demotion, transfer, or even termination. The key is to ensure that the consequence matches the severity and persistence of the bullying behavior.
Preventing Bullying in the Workplace
Employers should be aware of the prevalence of workplace bullying and not only take steps to address it when it occurs, but also develop policies and procedures for preventing it. An employee assistance program can provide guidance and insights about how to best customize a plan.
steps employers should consider to end bullying:
establish a zero-tolerance policy
Educating employees on acceptable behaviors is the first step in creating a safe, respectful work environment. Employers should have clear policies that outline appropriate conduct and the consequences of violating these rules.
create a safe reporting system
Employees should have the ability to report bullying incidents without fear of retaliation. Employers must ensure that any reports are taken seriously and managed appropriately.
speak up against inappropriate behavior
Management should intervene when they witness disrespectful or aggressive behavior in order to set clear expectations for staff conduct. Bullying will not be tolerated if employers take a firm stance on the issue.
provide support and counseling
Employees who are experiencing bullying should be offered professional help or counseling services to assist them in managing their feelings and emotions.
Bullying: A Serious Issue That Needs to Be Addressed
Workplace bullying is a serious issue that affects both individuals and organizations as a whole. It is essential for employers to recognize and address this problem in order to create a positive, productive work culture.
By taking proactive steps to identify, prevent, and respond to workplace bullying, employers can ensure that their organization is a safe, respectful place for everyone.
When you partner with Ulliance, our Life Advisor Consultants are always just a phone call away to teach ways to enhance your work/life balance and increase your happiness. The Ulliance Life Advisor Employee Assistance Program can help employees and employers come closer to a state of total well-being.
Investing in the right EAP or Wellness Program to support your employees will help them and help you. Visit https://ulliance.com/ or call 866-648-8326.
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2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, Workplace Bullying Institute, https://workplacebullying.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/2021-Full-Report.pdf
Employee Feedback Loop: The Secret Sauce for Employee Retention, Kailash Ganesh, Culture Monkey
How to Prevent and Address Bullying in the Workplace, Jennifer Benz, SCORE
How to Stop Workplace Bullying, Vanessa Lancaster, Psychology Today
Work Place Bullying Costs and Consequences, Rajesh Siwacp, International Journal of Engineering Research & Technology, https://www.ijert.org/work-place-bullying-cost-and-consequences