5 Steps for Addressing Workplace Bullying

The stories are out there and have been for years.

A salesman won a $2 million award against Microsoft, after a court ruled that key Microsoft managers had created a hostile environment, undermining the sales associate’s work, making false accusations against him, blocking him from promotions and otherwise marginalizing him.

A California appeals court held an employer liable for employees’ off-duty harassment of a disabled co-worker on a blog. The court held that the employer knew the blog existed and should have taken prompt remedial measures. Espinoza won $820,000.

A DISH Network employee won $270,000 after he proved his supervisor verbally and physically abused him, didn’t listen to his complaints, and failed to protect coworkers from the supervisor’s violent outbursts.

Workplace bullying costs in other ways. Bullies demoralize employees, reducing employee productivity. Abusive work environments have other serious consequences for employers, including higher turnover and absenteeism rates and increases in medical and workers’ compensation claims.

And it’s getting worse. Bullying is on the rise. A 2019 Monster.com survey revealed that nearly 94% of the 2081 employees surveyed said they had suffered from bullying in the workplace, a 19% increase over the incidence of bullying in 2008.

Can an organization truly tackle workplace bullying? Absolutely—if leaders commit to five steps.

First, leaders need to model respectful treatment toward all employees, as actions speak louder than words.

Second, leaders need to put in place a policy against bullying, or at least a code of conduct that defines how leaders want managers and employees to treat each other and the organization’s clients or customers. The policy needs to invite any employee who experiences or observes workplace bullying to report it without fear of retaliation. The end goal: all employees feel treated with respect.

Third, leaders need to establish a viable grievance channel that offers those with concerns reasonable confidentiality. Because bullies often kiss up and kick down, an organization’s leaders can be the last to know that bullies target those they consider prey. Employees targeted by bullies may feel reluctant to come forward, fearing retaliation by the bully or that the organization may perceive those who report bullying as the problem. Those who handle allegations need to effectively distinguish between legitimate and bogus concerns.

Fourth, leaders need to intervene if they discover managers or employees have violated the policy. Intervention starts with fact-checking and/or investigation, as some individuals unfairly label others as bullies. Tools that help identify whether bullying occurs include neutral interviews and methods that offer employees safe forums for telling the truth about what’s happening in the workplace, such as employee surveys and 360-degree reviews.

Fifth, managers and employees need training to learn how to handle bullying without becoming themselves aggressive, defensive, or falling into other classic traps, such as trying to appease, isolating themselves or stooping to the bully’s level.

What happens when organizations don’t act to end workplace bullying? Ultimately, we all pay the price.

If you’re interested in reading further, you might be interested in https://www.amazon.com/Beating-Workplace-Bully-audiobook/dp/B018F0S2LK/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=beating+the+workplace+bully&qid=1620953298&sr=8-2

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2 thoughts on “5 Steps for Addressing Workplace Bullying

  1. Wow! This is a great concise summary of what needs to be done in an organization to stop bullying. Of course, tone (and actions) at the top are key; as is having a policy that is known and disseminated; having a viable way of communicating about bullying; having it investigated; doing something about it without becoming a bully or finger-pointer management’s self. Outstanding!!!

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