It keeps happening. Bullying. In the schools, playgrounds, social media, and work. We read about suicides of young people who were bullied. Now Rutger’s basketball coach Mike Rice is fired after striking and berating his players. But his termination only happened after a video of his behavior went viral. The problem is not just in schools and with young people. Bullying is occurring on a daily basis in the workplace and employers are at a loss as to what to do about it.
Survey after survey point to widespread workplace problems. The findings of the Workplace Bullying survey conducted in 2011 found that half of the companies surveyed reported incidents of bullying. Victims report experiencing mental and emotional harm along with stress related physical damage including hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders and migraine headaches. A Canadian study even suggested that co-workers who witness bullying are also traumatized by it. And it is costing employers a lot in decreased morale, increased turnover and absenteeism, and drops in productivity—all impacting the bottom line.
So what does workplace bullying look like? Victims report a number of behaviors including verbal abuse, shouting, swearing, name calling and malicious sarcasm; hurtful gossip, rumors and lies; threats and intimidation; cruel comments and teasing; and even physical assaults.
While most bullying occurs between peers, much of it happens at the hands of supervisors directing their fury at staff. And, unfortunately, it is generally not illegal. While it is clearly bad management to threaten, humiliate, berate, intimidate, mock, and/or take credit for your employee’s work, there are no laws that say you can’t do it. But it is just these kinds of behaviors that severely impact the workplace, creating a toxic environment where little productive work gets done.
Bullying will continue to occur in the workplace as long as employers tolerate it. It will only stop when managers make it stop.
Many states are beginning to consider legislation to protect workers from bullies. Yet a legal response may not be the best approach. Employers have the power to address the issue quickly. It all begins with recognition of the problem. Education and awareness are the keys. Employers need to invest in training to make their employees aware of the problem and how to best respond if they see or experience it. It must be clear what behaviors are expected and what will not be tolerated in the workplace. Supervisors must also understand their responsibilities to address and deal with it. They need the know how, and have the tools to properly respond to it.
Similar to prevention programs that address harassment and discrimination, employers should develop policies and procedures to respond to allegations of bullying. That includes investigation procedures and discipline for violations. And responses should be swift, severe and appropriate.
Warnings, performance improvement plans, referral to counseling and termination should be utilized to quell this aberrant behavior. The message should be clear: bullying will never be tolerated in this workplace.
While the problem of bullying seems to be growing, workplaces that foster a culture based on mutual respect do not experience these types of behaviors. With respect comes collegiality, engagement and productivity. The workplace must be civil.
Too many employers will ignore the problem until required to do something. That’s unfortunate. The problem could be eradicated today by simply taking the appropriate actions. It’s not complicated. Enough is enough.
What are you doing in your company? Tell us in the Comment section below.
(This article, written by Rick Dacri, was originally published in the York County Coast Star)