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Workplace bullying is a widespread problem. According to a Workplace Bullying Institute study, 65 million workers are affected by workplace bullying. 20% of respondents said they had been bullied, 21% said that witnessed it, and 7% said that they are currently being bullied.
Even worse, 56% of people said that the person bullying them was their boss—making it hard to report the problem.
Bullying isn’t just a traumatic experience for the employee—it spells trouble for your business. There’s plenty of data that show that company culture has a direct effect on productivity. If your culture is one of a hostile work environment, your employees may spend more time worrying about their mental and physical safety than doing their best work. And once culture is broken, it takes a long time to remedy the problem.
There’s also the potential legal liability. If the bullying rises to a serious level, and a company official knew about it and did nothing, that could expose the company to possible litigation.
How to Deal with Workplace Bullies
1. Create an Anti-Bullying Policy
Another Workplace Bullying Institute survey found that 62% of the respondents reported having no such policy at their workplace. Before you can hold somebody accountable, there must be a policy in place since federal and state laws generally don’t mention workplace bullying unless it falls under anti-harassment law. The policy should provide a definition of bullying and address how employees should and shouldn’t act. In addition, it should layout reporting procedures and company actions. Click here to read an example policy.
RELATED: How to Create an Employee Handbook
2. Provide Anti-Bullying Training
Nobody wants to sit through training like this but by addressing the subject, you’re not only putting people on notice, you’re also helping to protect yourself from possible litigation. And some older employees, used to how things used to be, may need some education on the modern office environment. The Workplace Bullying Institute has resources available to help with training.
3. Encourage Reporting of Workplace Bullies
Tell all your employees that you want to know if they are a victim of or witness bullying. No report is too small and if found to be true, swift action will be taken. Also let them know that all reports will remain anonymous and investigated fully.
RELATED: Verbal Abuse and Workplace Violence
4. Provide No-Nonsense Enforcement of Policies
All the policies, training, and warnings mean nothing if there’s no concrete action taken when bullying exists. Regardless of how well-liked, high performing, or important the person is, action must be taken, even if that means the person is let go. Company culture and employee safety is always more important than an individual. If people report bullying and notice no action being taken, they won’t bother taking the chance again.
5. Don’t Call Anyone a Victim
Although the word might be accurate, using the term may cause other employees to look at the person unfavorably. Did they bring it on themselves? “If they were better at their job maybe they wouldn’t be treated that way,” and other comments might be said if the person is cast as a victim.
In general, you shouldn’t address incidents publically. Handle them with the parties involved. You will set the best example by being responsive rather than having an employee meeting about it.
RELATED: How to Manage Employee Conflicts in a Small Business
6. Put a Stop to Rumors
Every company and organization has talkers and gossipers but doing your best to encourage employees to talk to management instead of complain to each other will help to reinforce positive company culture and make bullies feel like outcasts. The better your culture, the less audience a bully has and the more likely people are to report the person.
7. Make Sure the Bully Isn't You
If we’re not honest, we can’t fix the problem. Maybe the bully is you. Maybe what you think is funny is actually hurting somebody else. Or maybe the stress of being a business owner sometimes comes out as anger toward employees.
First, remember that, whether you agree or not, we live in a culture that no longer tolerates the old school yelling, crude jokes, hazing, or demeaning of “the new guy.” You can’t selectively apply rules to certain employees, and you can’t publically reprimand people who make mistakes. Any of these could be bullying and even if you’re found innocent, settling a legal matter such as this could be costly.
If you’re a new business owner and just now starting to hire employees, make sure you know what you can and can’t do as a boss.
Culture starts at the top. Your company will become what you make it—good or bad. As an employer, your business will never flourish if you don’t first care about the people that work for you. Your company culture should be safe, inclusive, and caring. Not only is that the right thing to do, happy employees work hard and more efficiently and that creates a more successful business.
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