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What Qualifies as Workplace Bullying, And How Can You Prevent It?

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Bullying in the workplace creates an environment that makes employees feel uncomfortable, scared, and intimidated. It negatively impacts employees’ health and well-being, yet bullying can also reduce their productivity and performance. Bullying can happen to anyone at any age and takes the form of spiteful comments, verbal criticism, or exclusion. Regrettably, bullying remains one of the most neglected issues in the realm of employment relations. The harassed employee is perceived as being weak, that is, unable to solve their own problems. Bullying is accepted and encouraged by the culture of the organization. 

There are costs to employers that fail to address bullying, such as loss of productivity, healthcare costs, absenteeism, and reputation damage. Some acts of workplace bullying can be grounds for a lawsuit. In other words, the person can take action under the law. The employer is responsible for discrimination even if the employee hasn’t received a written contract. There’s a duty of care to ensure all employees work in an environment that doesn’t affect their health and safety. If an employer blatantly ignores bullying in the workplace, in serious cases, it can result in a personal injury claim. 

Common Examples of Workplace Bullying 

In a healthy workplace environment, employees come together in a community and find opportunities for collaboration. At times, a company’s environment doesn’t support respectful actions. Persistent mistreatment from others that causes physical or emotional harm is workplace bullying. The conduct is meant to threaten, intimidate, or humiliate the employee and can interfere with their ability to work. Bullying tends to thrive in stressful conditions or rigid hierarchical structures and doesn’t concern everyday disagreements. Even if bullying is a form of aggression, these actions aren’t always obvious. Here are some examples of workplace bullying: 

  • Spreading rumors about a coworker
  • Dismissing someone’s efforts in front of management
  • Intimidatory or derogatory comments
  • Sharing sensitive photos
  • Giving unfair/unattainable tasks/deadlines

In many countries around the world, there are specific prohibitions against bullying in the workplace, requiring employers to take the necessary steps to prevent such conduct from occurring. In the UK, for instance, harassment is against the law, and employees can take legal action at an employment tribunal. If you want to find out more, please visit https://www.legalexpert.co.uk/. Unfortunately, most targets of bullying lack the knowledge to respond effectively. Either they don’t grasp the cause of their problems, or they fail to realize it’s possible to fight back.

Actions Your Business Needs to Take Right Now to Stop Bullying 

For some employees, remote work has provided relief from bullying. Nevertheless, there’s evidence to suggest that, as companies have switched to remote work, workplace bullying has thrived. It doesn’t matter if it happens in the office or online; bullying should be addressed right away. Managers at all levels greatly influence attitudes towards bullying, so it’s up to leadership to model good behavior. Here are some effective strategies to reduce workplace bullying. 

Have An Anti-Bullying Policy in Place

Bullying shouldn’t be part of the job, so create an anti-bullying policy highlighting your stance and commitment to preventing it. A policy on its own isn’t enough to curb workplace bullying; employees must be aware of its existence and have the confidence to use it. Consider establishing an open-door policy where employees are encouraged to speak their minds without judgment or penalty. This will foster an environment of respect, and people in the organization will understand their rights and responsibilities. Training done through the policy strengthens organizational culture. 

Build Awareness Around the Impact of Bullying 

Prevention starts with building awareness. Coworkers might intervene to stop bullying by showing support to the victim or disagreeing with the perpetrator. Lack of intervention can leave the victim feeling their colleagues endorse bullying. More often than not, people don’t realize what’s happening and unknowingly support bullying, so hold mandatory training sessions on the different types of harassment. Take things one step further by adding your anti-bullying policy to your employee handbook and having everyone sign the acknowledgement. 

Train Managers to Identify Signs of Bullying 

Management must get harassment training to eliminate and prevent incidences. They should be able to identify the signs of bullying in the workplace, such as deceit, intimidation, isolation/exclusion, undermining work, etc. If bullying exists, it can be detrimental not only to the person in question, but also to the organization, with implications for productivity, collaboration, and turnover rate. There’s a strong correlation between bullying and the personality of the bully. Common characteristics of a bully include impulsiveness, anger management issues, lacking empathy, and prone to frustration.  Managers can’t spot bullies during the recruitment process, unfortunately. 

Create A Reporting System for Employees 

Since most incidents involve coworkers as the main perpetrators, it’s crucial to create safe channels for employees to raise their concerns. Individuals who have experienced bullying should be able to report the incident and file a complaint. If the process doesn’t work well, it will make the overall situation in the workplace worse. Most importantly, victims should be able to report incidents without fear of retaliation; they shouldn’t be punished for taking action. If individuals have reason to believe that a complaint will cause further harassment, they won’t follow normal grievances procedures. 

Closing Thoughts 

It’s one thing to be occasionally mistreated at work, and it’s a completely different thing to have it happen constantly. Those being harassed at work feel depressed, have symptoms of anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and even suicidal thoughts. Simply put, it can make the job unbearable. The working environment should be a supportive one, where every person can meet their goals without undue pressure and attention. You can play an important role in developing a positive team culture, so be alert, identify bullying early on, and take corrective action. 

Managers aren’t the only ones who can put an end to bullying. Employees need to do the heavy lifting when it comes to identifying and reporting incidents of bullying. Left unchallenged, bullies may trigger violence or escalate their bad behavior – or the victim may respond with aggression. Employees should emulate good behavior.

Based in LA, Alice Blake is a senior reporter for Kivo Daily. She primarily covers entrepreneurs.

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