Bullying in the Workplace
As an experienced human resources executive, I have seen it all, from employees pitching in to help a sick co-worker who ran out of paid leave, to having to let an employee go who isn’t able to perform the job. One problem I’ve seen become an issue again and again is employers having to deal with employee bullying. For my first column, I will introduce my career experience, and then use that experience to specifically confront bullying in the workplace.
How I Became a Human Resources Expert
I bring over twenty-four plus years of experiences to my column. I have worked in the trenches as a civil rights investigator and worked my way into an executive role in human resources to now owning my own consulting firm – Favor Human Resources Consulting. I bring my diverse know-how to explore problems faced in the workplace and ways to resolve them. Sharing my knowledge based on personal observations and my practice in the field will offer insight on how to work together. We have to work, unless we won the lottery, so let’s make it the best place to spend our time.
I earned professional certification as a Senior Human Resources Professional and completed an MBA from the University of Nebraska, Omaha. These are fancy titles that tell you I continue to learn and want to be on the cutting edge of my field. Human Resources’ is serious business, but really it is about respect, working together, and contributing to a common goal. The laws governing employment are the foundation, but the talent and success comes from the people in leadership positions and those who ensure the mission is achieved.
I will always try to bring you timely, informative topics. To start my column, let’s look a little more at Bullying in the Workplace. This phenomenon is increasing in workplaces throughout the country, and Omaha is no exception.
Is Bullying A Part of Your Workplace?
“I wasn’t invited to lunch with the boss?”
“There was a meeting on the new project, and they moved the deadlines, but no one told me?”
“You never get it right, how many times do I have to tell you something?”
Do these sound familiar? These are just a few examples of what is now being called “Bullying in the Workplace." Back in the day, this was considered office politics (not that office politics have gone away, but that is another topic and another column). Now, it has its own name and is being researched to see how to combat the problem.
Bullying is expensive. If an employer is naïve enough to think it doesn’t happen in their workplace or it’s just a personality conflict or disrespect amongst co-workers they are not educated on a trend that is being described as reaching systemic epidemic proportions. Bullying is aggression, and it doesn’t belong in your workplace. Employees should not be allowed to be victims or be bullies.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is being insulted at work by a co-worker or boss; being threatened, intimidated, or humiliated privately or in front of others; or having your work sabotaged. Most times, it is a combination of these. Bullying is not a supervisor talking to an employee who is failing to meet work deadlines. It’s not a manager meeting with a worker who can’t complete their key responsibilities. And it’s not driving employees to achieve results. Bullying has a purpose – it has a personal motive not related to business results. It is about inappropriate control of others.
Who is a Bully?
Bullies are people who are calculated in their actions towards a co-worker. They choose who their targets are, and they choose when, where and how they plan to attack someone. The Bully may be a manager, but it is more common among co-workers. Bullies tend to be men, but women target other women 71% of the time – there is no sisterhood. Bullies don’t like to share credit with others, and bosses who are bullies will steal the ideas of their team. Bullies are concerned about themselves and will let their agenda take priority over the work itself.
The Bully’s Target
It is not like it was in school, where the child who doesn’t fit in or plays alone is the most likely target. Bullies in the workplace like to target people they perceive as a threat to them. The victim will have stronger technical skills and be well liked and respected in the company. They are the "go-to" person for new employees. Interestingly, the Bully’s target usually does not respond to aggression with aggression. Instead, they tend to even feel empathy for the Bully. Some victims are considered whistleblowers’ because they disclose wrong doing in the workplace and bring values and ethics to the workplace.
Should the Boss Get Involved?
If an employer doesn’t get involved, it may be perceived by employees that the behavior of bullying is just incivility towards co-workers or a personality issue. However, there is much more to it. Businesses exist to provide goods and services – employers’ productivity declines when bullying goes unchecked. It costs money. It’s simple and basic – when employees lose, employers lose.
Currently, 80% of bullying cases are legal. That doesn’t mean it isn’t costly. Legislators across the country are exploring statutory protection for employees. Do were need more legislation in the workplace? This is a problem employers can solve. The courts are looking at bullying and Indiana’s Supreme Court (2008) recognized bullying as one of many factors in a case resulting in a costly judgment.
Employers who ignore or tolerate bullying experience very real, expensive issues in the workplace: higher turnover among talented employees, lost productivity, higher absenteeism, and insurance claims, not to mention your hard built reputation.
What to do about a Bully
As an Employee
If you are a target of abuse you don’t have to take it. You can get control by confronting the abuser. Be careful if you are fearful of physical harm and seek professional intervention if you are concerned.
Prepare to share your story, and map out how you plan to proceed. Treat the problem seriously. When approaching leadership or human resources, you want to be succinct and non-emotional. Preparation allows you to provide the who, what, when, and where details that will be needed to supplement your anecdotal accounts. If your company has policies, follow them. This demonstrates you willingness to resolve it internally and through appropriate channels.
Unfortunately, you may need a backup plan if your employer is non-responsive. That may range from legal assistance to starting your career in a new department or with a new employer. Since there are no legislative prohibitions on “bullying” at this time, you may need to be proactive and take care of yourself.
As an Employer
Recognize that bullying is real and a threat to your business. Don’t ignore it or dismiss it. Taking proactive steps tells your workforce that you do value them and that their safety and health is important to you. Develop policies that prohibit bullying in the workplace. Define for employees and leadership the steps to take to alleviate the problem, and, most importantly, hold offenders accountable for their action. A well defined policy widely disseminated and the education and training of leadership and managers will protect you from the negative consequences of ignorance of this very real, costly workplace problem.
Bullying is something we have all observed and honestly probably turned our heads from. Sometimes we are just glad we are not the victim. As a manager, the pressures of delivering results and achieving goals may skew our realities into thinking we are doing our job while allowing bullying. Regardless, bullying hurts employees AND hurts employers. So, let’s all do our best to stamp it out of the workplace.
See you next month!