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Identifying and Preventing Workplace Bullying

Oct 18, 2016
Deb Muller


Bullying is a major problem within almost every industry.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 study (yes, it’s that big of a problem), “27% of employees have current or past experience with abusive conduct at work.” The WBI found in a previous study that “50% of bullied employees never even complain.”

This is a huge, silent problem.

And when a shark’s circulating the office, the other fish flee.

Turnover rates tend to soar in offices where bullying regularly occurs. Strima Org research found that “80% of bullied workers walk away and find another job”, courtesy of ToughNickel. Not to mention the catastrophic effects it has on morale, team building, productivity, and recruitment.

So how can leaders identify a bully before impacting the company’s brand? How can bullying be prevented in the first place?

Paying Attention to the Signs

Management and leadership must be coached to recognize and deter bullying. Of course, when managers are around, employees will be on their best behavior – but subtle signs elsewhere in the organization might mean a bully has become active.

  • Have otherwise productive employees become disengaged? Has management noticed increased tardiness or absence? These may be indicators of an office bully. Another WBI study found that “45% of targets experience stress-related health problems.”
  • An otherwise productive, engaged, and developed employee has suddenly tendered his/her resignation – a devastating blow for both productivity and leadership building.
  • A low-star review on websites like Glassdoor that allow employees to reflect upon organizations, from interviewing questions to office culture could be another telltale sign. Look for details in the review should sound off all alarms.
  • If a former employee was bullied, it might be said here to deter others from experiencing it.

If management notices behavioral patterns after losing great talent, they’ve already lost to the bully.

Preventing Bullying Behavior

To remain actively engaged and productive, employees need to feel safe and protected when arriving to work.

Whether a complaint has been filed or office bullying is suspected, HR management must address the issue to diminish its impact on productivity and engagement.

If the bully remains anonymous, HR can take steps to ensure a safe working environment for all by:

  • Directly addressing the issue of bullying in a company-wide email. If it persists, in a company-wide meeting.
  • Reminding employees about any policies related to gossip, bullying, and harassment.
  • Intervening when witnessing one coworker ridiculing another
  • Documenting every instance witnessed or brought before management

Investigating Workplace Bullying

From the moment the first complaint was received until the case has been closed, it is important that management cites specific dates and times received, recorded, or witnessed. Likewise, management must record and retain the following information:

  • Who made the complaint
  • Who recorded the complaint
  • If known, the alleged bully also needs the opportunity to provide his/her side of the story
  • What was said/done
  • Any witnesses to the bullying
  • Any record of similar past incidents and how they were managed
  • Counseling / Remedial actions taken and reasoning for those actions

All counseling/remedial actions and their outcomes need also be recorded to protect the organization, should litigation follow.

Following Procedure When Remedial Action Fails

Management will interview all included parties, keep meticulous records, follow up when specified, determine a course of action, and institute changes.

If, after counsel or remedial action, the offending party continues their behavior, consequences must be exercised.

All information received needs to be easily-accessed by managerial and leadership teams to ensure compliance with company procedures, guidelines, and any applicable law.

Should another incident arise, management needs to investigate using the same documents, wording, procedures, and evaluation methods. Investigative consistency ensures the company’s safety against suite. Likewise, consistent processes often lead to consistent outcomes.

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.

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