It's Time to Bring Workplace Bullying Into the Light

It's Time to Bring Workplace Bullying Into the Light

As public awareness rises and Healthy Workplace Bills gain traction, failing to address workplace bullying can have dire consequences.

While we might like to think that bullies only live in school yards, the Workplace Bullying Institute asserts that 27 percent of Americans "have suffered abusive conduct at work," and "another 21 percent have witnessed it."

That said, given the subjective nature of bullying, it's not hard to understand why businesses are cautious about laws that could precipitate a torrent of claims that are hard to prove one way or the other. But all agree that failing to address it can have dire consequences.

For example, Verywell Mind reports that victims of bullying can suffer physical and psychological health problems, including stress, anxiety, panic attacks and more, while a 2015 study concluded that victims of workplace bullying are twice as likely to experience suicidal ideation.

Even if the situation doesn't reach those extremes, bullying can directly impair the productivity and effectiveness not only of bullied workers but also of those around them. According to Verywell Mind, bullied workers' fear impairs decision-making and confidence. Meanwhile, victims of bullies will tap into the time of those around them while seeking support. And even those not directly bullied are still exposed to it and sometimes encouraged to participate, creating a toxic work environment.

Costs Are Hard to Quantify Ñ but They Are Substantial

While it may be difficult to assign a specific dollar value to the cost of workplace bullying, that cost can be significant, starting with the risk of legal expenses and extending to employee turnover. As for recruiting, having an employment brand associated with abusiveness can be devastating in an environment where competition for top talent is fierce and intensifying.

Almost 30 states have introduced or considered a "Healthy Workplace Bill," which attempts to define and codify abusive workplace environments and provide legal recourse to victims.

As awareness increases, so does the risk of tolerating even a single abusive manager.

A Big Stick for Bullying

Awareness is also the first step toward prevention. Given its prevalence, the biggest warning sign that workplace bullying exists would be organizational leadership with unreasonably high confidence that no bullying is taking place. Beyond that, you can take the following steps to track the issue.

  • Look for targets of bullying. While perpetrators may have a strong social network that over time has adapted to protect them, victims of bullying are usually easier to identify. Where there's a victim, there's a source.
  • Watch for overly emotional language from managers during the performance review cycle. Yes, it's a manager's job to assess job performance. But overly heated language is likely indicative of a bigger problem.
  • Check with senior leadership. If you're experiencing or witnessing bullying at the senior leadership level, you can be sure that it's trickling down. It's time to address the problems at the top as well as the likelihood for that behavior to have spread to others at lower levels of management.

Once identified, there are a few things you can do to significantly reduce the risk of bullying.

Promote zero tolerance

The line between bullying and other less severe or persistent behaviors may be hard to locate. That said, most employees feel like they know bullying when they see it. When those lines are crossed, the organization needs to have a clear and consistent response.

Provide sustained training

But it's not just enough to provide proper training, when communicating and offering that training, you should avoid euphemisms like "incivility," "inappropriate behavior" or "disrespect." Euphemisms only serve to minimize the consequences of tolerating violence in your workplace.

Be Good, Get Better

Addressing workplace bullying with clarity and confidence will benefit your organization in ways that go beyond the good feeling you should have for helping to build a healthy and happy work environment.

A kind and tolerant workplace will help you hire and retain better people, support a more positive and productive work environment and create better business results as expressed in terms of safety, engagement, customer satisfaction, productivity and revenues.

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