Most people think that once you outgrow your school uniform, you also outgrow bullying and being bullied. You might be surprised to learn, however, that up to one third of Australian employees believe that they have been bullied at some point, and if their employers had done their due diligence they could have managed the issue better.
Clearly, bullying goes well beyond the playground, and there’s a good chance it’s happening in your office too. Here’s what you need to know:
What Is Bullying?
Bullying is any action by a person or group that targets an employee or employees, and makes them feel harassed, victimized, humiliated or threatened. This may range from something as seemingly harmless as teasing or practical jokes, to aggression or violence. It may also include unreasonable demands, or ostracizing the person or people.
Genuine disciplinary action or management reviews that include negative information, when justified, are not bullying.
Workplace bullying can be a very broad topic, so it can be tough to pinpoint what a workplace bully looks like. They may, however, display some of the following traits:
- Loud or aggressive behavior
- Name calling, often framed as a joke when done in public
- Quick to lay blame, and unwilling to accept responsibility
- Credit seeking behavior
- Unreasonable demands
Workplace bullies, like their school yard counterparts, are often very careful not to exhibit this behavior in front of authority figures, so you may need to do some subtle surveillance and due diligence to spot these signs.
An Open Door Policy
The best way to flush out and prevent workplace bullying is to make it clear to all staff members that you have an open door policy, and that all complaints of bullying behavior will be treated with the level of seriousness they deserve. Don’t play favorites either. Remember that workplace bullies are very often the same people that management think are model staff members!
Dealing with Bullies Before and After Hiring
It can be difficult to identify bullies before you hire them, but there may be clues in their references from past employers. If the person you are hiring is going to be in a supervisory or management role, be sure to ask about their leadership style, both when talking to past employers, and during the interview.
If you do find that one of your employees are or may be bullying other staff members, there are several steps you can take:
- Discuss the issue with the affected or bullied employees, and find out what is happening, from their perspective.
- Discuss the issue separately with the bully. Remember that bullied employees are unlikely to speak out in front of the perpetrator, so keep these meetings separate, and don’t identify their accuser.
- During your meeting with the bully, identify acceptable alternatives to their behavior, and discuss company policies governing employee relationships.
- Make them aware that you will be following up periodically.
Don’t be surprised if your workplace bully is surprised to be identified as such. Many people who are bullies are unaware that what they are doing is unacceptable, and they may be shocked or even angry.
Drawing the Line
Often, simply discussing appropriate and inappropriate behavior can be enough to solve a bullying problem, but sometimes, it isn’t. If you find that you’re losing great team members due to one bully, then you may need to make a tough decision for the good of the team.