Why and How to Prevent Workplace Bullying

Published: January 10, 2013 Author: Rebecca Castillo Tags: Manager's Corner, Working and Workplaces

This is the third piece in our series about workplace bullying, an old and surprisingly common problem that has been gaining widespread attention recently. In our first post, "Grown Up Mean Girls," we introduced the topic with some real-life stories from our colleagues and friends. The second piece covered the similarities and differences between workplace bullying and harassment. Here we cover a few of the ways managers can act to keep bullies from creating a toxic work environment and harming your employees.

Why is it important to stop workplace bullying?

Many other countries that have legal protection for workers include bullying as prohibited conduct. United States law does not, but one suit could be all it takes to change that. But regardless, the potential for harm to your good employees and to your business should be enough to motivate managers to strive for a bully-free work environment.

Left unaddressed, bullying in the workplace can cost your company dearly in the form of lowered productivity as employee attention shifts from meaningful performance to office power struggles. Whether or not there is a lawsuit, bad actors can cause tension and fear among employees (even those not being targeted), staff turnover and associated costs of hiring and training, stress-related health problems among employees, and absenteeism.

Employees who are bullied or who witness bullying tend not to report it, but instead vote with their feet. This can allow a bully to single handedly transform your organization into a toxic dump as top performers hastily abandon ship and leave behind those who will endure poor conditions for the paycheck because they were never that invested in the first place.

For these reasons, it's critically important to get bullies out of your organization and take steps to avoid inadvertently hiring or promoting one.

What can employers do to curb workplace bullying?

Our business culture often rewards assertiveness. Beware of inadvertently allowing a bully to rise to management positions or be hired into them, as this can cause significant damage to your company even in the absence of legal protections for targets.

Here are some tips for managers who wish to combat bullying:

  • Encourage civil and respectful conduct in the workplace
  • Be vigilant for aggressive behavior and investigate promptly when it occurs
  • Establish an anti-bullying policy and train employees to be aware of bullying and report it
  • Be clear about objectives and expectations for each employees that are related to company goals
  • Measure employee success based on what the person has done to advance the company's goals, not how much power they have accumulated.
  • Consider it a red flag when a management candidate talks about "cleaning house" without apparent empathy or respect for employees
  • In interviewing for management positions, ask about how the candidate motivated employees in his/her past management roles. Consider it a red flag if the candidate's strategies relied less on respect and understanding and more on coercion or pressure tactics.
  • Consider it a red flag if your recruiting team is in overdrive to fill newly vacant positions after a new management hire.

More information:

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Comments (1)

  1. Anna May:
    Feb 28, 2013 at 02:45 PM

    I agree with making sure that there is civil and respectful control in the workplace after such issues of bullying or conflict. Maybe bringing in external mediation services would be an option to help disperse tbe issues and help be the middle man.

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