Dealing with Bullies in Your Workplace

According to a recent study released by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), over a quarter of U.S. adults have been the target abusive behavior in the workplace, and another 21% have observed abusive behavior directed toward others at work. Furthermore, the study found that fewer than 20% of employers take action to stop workplace bullying.

As a savvy HR professional, you know that bullying undermines morale, productivity, and work quality. As a compassionate human being, you believe everyone deserves respect. You are already motivated to create and maintain a bully-free workplace, but how do you begin? Taking these four steps will put you on the right path.

How to Create and Maintain a Bully-Free Workplace

1. Identify bullying behaviors. Bullies threaten, intimidate, humiliate, or undermine the work of their victims. They can do this in a variety of ways. Spreading gossip, deriding the work of others, and speaking to others in a condescending way are all forms of bullying.

2. Refuse to enable those behaviors. The same WBI study found that 72% of employers enabled bullying in some way.

  • 16% didn’t take action because they believed the behavior wasn’t serious;
  • 25% denied that it was occurring;
  • 15% rationalized the behavior as innocent or just part of business;
  • 11% defended workplace bullies who were managers or executives, and
  • 5% actively encouraged the abusive behavior as a necessary part of competition

It’s important to recognize that an environment in which everyone can do their best work and invest themselves in your organization is one in which everyone feels respected and safe. Eliminating abusive behavior in the workplace should be a priority for all managers, executives, and HR professionals not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s smart business.

3. Try to understand the bully’s underlying motivations. Adults often bully each other for the same reasons children do: They have fears or needs that they are attempting to address, and they are using unacceptable means to do so. Condescension to coworkers or subordinates can be a way of counteracting one’s own feelings of insignificance or powerlessness, for example. Nurturing a sense of importance, belonging, and security in all members of the organization can help to curtail these kinds of behaviors.

4. Set an expectation of mutual respect. If bullying is already a problem in your workplace, you will need to start a conversation about this expectation. Address problem behaviors explicitly, and shed light on the negative impact they have on the work environment. Re-shaping behavior is more than one conversation; it’s a process of building a culture of respect. To do that, you need buy-in from all levels, from entry-level employees to executives. Hold meetings. Share statistics. Help all members of your organization see how a respectful work environment benefits them personally and makes a stronger team.

With a safe environment for everyone to work in, you can keep your employees happy and your organization running smoothly and efficiently.

Help everyone in your organization by having the right HR software in place to empower employees to quickly find the data they need and streamline processes.
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