What does bullying look like? It may surprise you to hear that workplace bullying doesn’t usually include shouting or other overt actions; it is typically done on a softer, but equally demoralizing scale. Bullying typically includes the following behaviors: unwarranted or invalid criticism, blame without factual justification, treating the bullied employee differently than the rest of the employees in a work group, or making the bullied employee the target of exclusion, social isolation, rumors and/or gossip.Many employees may not understand that these behaviors are abusive, and therefore do not understand that something is wrong. The employees feel this is a part of the workplace culture and try to deal with the behaviors on their own. However, bullying behavior rarely resolves itself without management intervention. While workplace culture is important (and we would not recommend that you “sanitize” your unique culture) you will want to be aware of what is simple, offhanded and good-natured teasing, and what crosses the line into abusive conduct. We would recommend that you do an honest analysis of your organization and consider these questions about your culture:
- Does it encourage and support comradery, or does it create an environment that feeds on heavy competition?
- Does it welcome the opinions of staff-level employees, or does it make them feel hesitant to speak up and offer different viewpoints, favoring only the opinions of management?
- Does it give weight to complaints and then quickly investigate those internal complaints?
- Does it lead by example from the top down and consistently demonstrate appreciation for all employees? Is there an expectation that everyone will be treated fairly and with dignity?
Once you’ve analyzed your workplace culture, we recommend you take some steps to correct any current concerns you uncover, as well as implement a future zero-tolerance policy for abusive conduct in the workplace.
However, simply having a policy is not enough. You will want to ensure that employees understand the issue and the consequences for violation of your policy. The best way to generate awareness is to be sure employees are trained to recognize bullying behavior and know who to turn to for help if they feel they are being treated poorly and in violation of the policy. Since employees are more likely to turn to their immediate supervisors for help, we would recommend that once a policy is implemented, the organization trains all managers and supervisors on the parameters of the policy – making sure they understand and can communicate to employees the boundaries set forth by the policy. Supervisors should also be trained on the need to immediately report any reports of harassment, bullying, or inappropriate behavior to the Human Resources representative or other management figure.
Finally, once a complaint has been made, it’s important that the organization takes the allegations seriously and completes a thorough investigation. Doing so not only sends the message to other employees that such behavior will not be tolerated, but a complete and thoroughly documented investigation can be a useful tool in demonstrating that the organization operated in good faith toward its employees. This investigation documentation will show that the organization took immediate steps to address abusive conduct- and will prove vital if your organization were ever challenged regarding any of its actions. Recognizing the signs of bullying and abusive conduct in the workplace, is the first step to mitigating the risk of this behavior.