Identifying and Mitigating Bullying in the Workplace

Workplace Bullying – What Does It Mean Exactly? — Krista Hiddema

Company culture is an invisible but complicated system in an organization. It is in place to assure that the employees are productive, satisfied, and loyal to the company.  

But if an employee starts bullying others, it impacts the organizational culture negatively unless it is strong enough to have the members know exactly what they are expected to do and eliminate the toxic behavior. 

To strengthen the culture so that the values are upheld and don’t give way to negative behaviors like bullying, identifying and effectively mitigating this bullying is critical. 

What is Workplace Bullying? 

Workplace bullying is targeted behavior that is harmful to the work environment. It may include behavior that is intimidating, mocking, spiteful, or offensive. Often it forms a pattern and is directed to a single person or a selected few people. 

Since workplace bullying does not do physical harm but is rather psychological, it is hard to identify it. However, some of the examples of workplace bullying that can make it easy to identify include: 

  • Practical jokes that are targeted at a person/group of people 
  • Misleading people about duties such as deliberately giving unclear directions or incorrect deadlines 
  • Continually denying requests for PTO/vacation or other leaves without any valid reasoning 
  • Humiliation in front of others 
  • Threats and other forms of verbal abuse 
  • Micromanaging and performance monitoring 
  • Unjustified harsh criticism. 

Criticism or monitoring might not always come under the scope of bullying. For example, constructively criticizing someone over their work is a part of a healthy work culture because it promotes learning and growth. Similarly, disciplinary action aimed at improving work performance also doesn’t come under the classification of bullying. 

However, intimidating or humiliating behavior without any justified reason is considered bullying. Also, the one who is bullying holds greater power than the one being bullied, even if it means a more powerful social status. 

Existing state and federal laws do not protect against workplace bullying, but the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and subseqent Act does protect employees from workplace harassment as a result of various federal laws and sometimes bullying and harassment overlap. Unless it involves physical harm or the one being bullied belongs to a minority group or has a disability, bullying is not currently punishable by law.  

Regardless, identifying and mitigating bullying in the workplace is very important to maintain a high work decorum and assure that the work environment is healthy and positive for workers to get good performance. 

Mitigating Workplace Bullying 

Bullying is one of the issues that can pollute an office environment. The ones who are being bullied face a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. Due to bullying, their performance declines, and absenteeism increases. 

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, around 30% of employees in the US have been bullied. With the increase in work-from-home opportunities, bullying is still a factor that remains constant. 43.2% of workers who work remotely experience workplace bullying. 

Because it is so common and so detrimental, it needs to be mitigated. Here are some strategies to mitigate workplace bullying:

Identifying Bullying

The major issue related to identifying bullying is that it is psychological. However, it is important to train the staff on what constitutes bullying behavior so they can report it when they witness someone bullying a fellow team member, or have had an experience of someone bullying them. 

Furthermore, identifying workers who were good performers before and whose performance has declined is important. They might be facing something in their personal lives, or might be experiencing bullying.

Keep a Sharp Eye for Likely Targets

Some people are more likely to be bullied than others. They might have few friends at work, or do not speak up publicly. When the manager notices signs of someone withdrawing from a group or not having an average number of working relationships, it is important to keep a sharp eye on them to identify if they are being bullied in the workplace.

Reduce the Power Distance

An open-door policy or reducing the power distance means that the members of the team are comfortable taking things up with their managers. This might lead to unwanted complaints as well, but the managers should be aware of which complaints to pay heed to and which ones to ignore to discourage workplace politics and drama.

Appropriate Action

While an open-door policy might lead to troubling employees complaining about the smallest of things, serious complaints should not be ignored. When the manager deals with the complaint promptly and sets a no tolerance for bullying policy, they build trust within the team which allows them to come up to them whenever they face any issues. It also results in bullies being careful of their actions since they know what the consequences are.

Provide Constructive Criticism

Many times managers themselves become bullies because they are unjust in their harsh attitude and their criticism. Managers should be trained to provide constructive criticism to their subordinates. They should not make negative personal comments and help the employee improve step by step along the way.

Positive Work Culture

When the workplace culture is strong and values all members of the staff, it clarifies the workplace behavior that is expected and the behavior that is not tolerated. 

A positive work culture means the managers and employees alike are trained on matters like positive constructive criticism, accepting a diversity of thoughts and personalities, and making colleagues feel welcome in the workplace. Policies that outline what is not tolerated and the kind of work behavior expected also sets the basis for a positive and strong work culture.

Lead by example 

The way managers and supervisors behave also sets an example for other employees to follow. Those in positional power, when behaving nicely and eloquently with their subordinates shows the kind of behavior that is expected and the work behavior that is a part of the corporate culture.   

Summing it Up 

Workplace bullying is a behavior that should have a zero-tolerance policy since it has a highly negative impact on the employee’s motivation and job performance. It destroys the work culture and results in increased turnover amongst employees. Since employees are one of the core inputs of an organization, happy and satisfied employees are the key to growth and customer satisfaction. 

Some ways of identifying bullying in the workplace are looking out for frequent targeted practical jokes, identifying people who have distanced themselves from colleagues, and keeping an open-door policy for all. Furthermore, once identified, the bully should receive punishment that sets an example that bullying is not acceptable at all, thus adding to a strong culture that is self-correcting negative workplace behaviors.  

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