Bullying is alive and well not only on the schoolyard, but in the workplace. Workplace bullying is a type of harassment that has been estimated to affect 37 % of today’s workforce according to a recent Zogby International survey. This survey has further found that 72% of the perceived harassers are bosses. Harassment might arise from discrimination over gender, age, and position in the company, and race. Those bullies are generally in power and believe that this power and status justifies insensitive treatment towards others that are “inferior” or not “in their league.” They often justify their actions as “just kidding” and believing others should just “take a joke.”
The effects of workplace bullying have repercussions throughout the workplace, as an atmosphere of basic safety and trust is violated. Physical and emotional health is affected, and can result in unmanaged stress, absenteeism, and low workplace morale. The problem is, this type of abusive behavior is not necessarily illegal, and although 13 states have proposed “healthy workplace” legislation, none of these bills have passed.
The following are the top ten tips for safeguarding your workplace from bullying!
- REALISE THAT COMMUNICATION IS KING! It is the key to job effectiveness. It has been a long accepted phenomenon that the reasons why people fail at their jobs are not due to poor job or technical skills, but it is because of poor communication skills. Providing your employees with knowledge through seminars and coaching helps to provide key tools for communication.
- Educate yourself on Workplace Bullying. Realise that workplace bullying is often not blatant – it can be a subtle type of communication that is condescending, insidious controlling and disrespectful. For example, rhetorical questions are unacceptable – such as “Why aren’t you listening to me?” “What’s wrong with you?” “How many times have I told you that?”
- Ensure all employees know the difference between Assertive and Aggressive behavior. Knowing the guidelines of each can make it easy to identify workplace bullying. Assertive statements are characterized by “I” statements where one is honest, yet tactful and respectful to others, while Aggressive communication has a “you” focus in which one is dominating, controlling and judgmental. All too often people in charge think they can be “bossy” since they are bosses.
- Understand that bullies are not “bad” people – they lack awareness and skills, and are often well meaning in their intensity to “get the job done.” Some very well could have some emotional instability and unhealthiness. Do not hesitate to share concerns, document concerns, and provide EAP assistance or coaching to the valued executive who have difficulty taming their intensity.
- Have zero tolerance for Workplace bullying! Give resources to help the bully firstly understand that they are behaving in an unacceptable manner and offer them tools, help to build better skills. Don’t be non-assertive and look the other way! Provide a clear written policy of what constitutes Workplace Bullying and what are the consequences for bullying behavior. Make sure all employees are aware of the policy and have a “refresher” memo or reminder periodically.
- Provide a clear channel of how one reports bullying or if they suspect bullying which is confidential and discreet. Ensure there will be no fear of repercussions if a complaint is shared. All too often employees fear retaliation and think that if they complain to human resources or others in management, they are not guaranteed confidentiality and their jobs could be in jeopardy. The fear that the complaint will be leaked is one of the most common factors that prevent employees from addressing the bully, and fear of reprisal is paramount.
- Help employees identify their rights. They have a right to be treated with respect, the right not to be demeaned and disrespected. You might offer employees a “bill of rights” in writing as to how they can be expected to be treated. Show them you care about them being treated fairly.
- Realise the importance of a sense of control in the mental wellness of your employees. Those who feel like they are controlled and have little say in their lives at work develop resent and poor work morale and performance. A perceived lack of control leads to “learned helplessness” in which employees have a victim mentality and see “no way out.” This leads to anxiety, poor work performance, absenteeism, and increased use of sick time.
- Unmanaged workplace stress is a 300 billion dollar profit killer in businesses and organizations throughout
North America. 80% to 90% of all industrial accidents are likely related to personal problems and employees' inability to handle stress. Offer stress management workshops to teach your employees how to manage their stress and not to be “stress carriers!”
- Do not “assume” that your employees know about workplace bullying. Educate them, offer workshops on this topic, to ensure that they are knowledgeable about what constitutes workplace bullying!