Bullying at work. Impact, response and prevention

January 19, 2016 | By Cognadev

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There is already a wealth of information on the topic of bullying in the workplace – what it is, how to handle it etc. The tone is bleak in the sense that it seems victims are normally not empowered to stop it. In many cases, targets of bullying are left with little choice but to leave their jobs, if they haven’t already been forced out, often with shattered confidence. Some articles even advise the target to avoid seeking assistance from Human Resources, as they work for the company and will often side with, or are equally scared of, the bully. In some sources, it is even recommended that in family run businesses the employee should rather just opt to leave, as they will not be able to take the bully to task. Why do employees feel they cannot turn to their bosses, and when they do, why are they not being protected? Some possible reasons for this are:

  • Bullying is difficult to identify, it is usually subtle and covert, occurring over a period of time
  • Bullies usually create a very efficient picture of themselves and therefore employers don’t want to lose them
  • They provide convincing reasons for their behaviour and the target is not believed
  • Staff have already seen complaints of bullying swept under the carpet
  • Bullies may sometimes target their bosses as well
  • Employers downplay the behaviour: viewing it as a personality clash, a bad mood, sensitivity etc.
  • Targets are afraid of losing their jobs, so they tolerate the behaviour

Bullying and the bottom line

Bullying in the workplace is a very serious problem that should never be ignored or taken lightly. The Workplace Bullying Institute maintains that, “Being bullied at work closely resembles the experience of being a battered spouse. The abuser inflicts pain when and where she or he chooses, keeping the target (victim) off balance knowing that violence can happen on a whim, but dangling the hope that safety is possible during a period of peace of unknown duration. The target is kept close to the abuser by the nature of the relationship between them – husband to wife or boss to subordinate or co-worker to co-worker.”

The experience of being bullied at work often leads to poor psychological and physical health for the target, which ultimately negatively impacts the employee’s productivity.

If for no other reason, employers should be concerned about bullying for the negative impact it has on the company’s success and profitability. Staff turnover, training new staff members, absenteeism, increased risk of workplace accidents, tarnished corporate image, poor customer service and ultimately law suits and disciplinary hearings all impact on the company’s bottom line.

Prevention is better than cure

When it comes to bullying, it is far better to prevent this type of behaviour than to deal with it once it occurs. Implementing anti-bullying policies at work and creating the correct climate can go a long way in controlling this type of behaviour:

An anti-bullying policy should:

  • Clearly state how the company defines bullying and provide examples of unacceptable behaviour and working conditions
  • State the consequences of bullying
  • Outline the process of how bullying will be handled
  • Encourage the reporting of unacceptable behaviour and ensure this channel is confidential
  • Outline the process of investigating complaints
  • Ensure a program is in place to support the target, outside of the workplace

Create an anti-bullying climate

  • All employees should be made aware of the anti-bullying policy
  • An intolerance for bullying should be clearly stated and revisited regularly
  • All complaints should be taken seriously, investigated thoroughly, dealt with promptly and treated with integrity
  • Encourage an environment of respect and diversity celebration
  • Educate all staff members about bullying, the harmful consequences to the company as well as the individuals involved
  • Provide opportunities for further development, especially in the areas of self-awareness, personality strengths and developmental areas, interpersonal skills and diversity tolerance. Provide managerial staff with training in people management. Assessments can assist in this regard
  • Carefully monitor team dynamics, pay special attention to individuals with controlling and aggressive tendencies as well as employees who seem to have become increasingly despondent, nervous, demotivated or regularly ill
  • Select your staff wisely and screen for red flags

For some useful information on bullying and how to handle it visit: https://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm

Our VO and MP assessment and Emotional Intelligence training can assist in further developing your staff.