How to recognise and deal with bullying at work

October 24, 2018 adminmj

Most of us probably experienced being bullied as a child – it’s a horrible thing to go through. But it’s almost ridiculous to think that this sort of childish, immature, cowardly behaviour will be carried through by some into adulthood.

Maybe that’s why bullying at work can be so hard to recognise? But if we don’t learn to recognise it, we cannot then deal with it. And just like childhood bullying can have an impact on our mental health and happiness, so too can bullying at work.

Let’s get one thing clear. Bullying, at any age or life stage, is utterly unacceptable. Using your strength, influence, power or any other means to intimidate someone and force them into a submissive compromised state is disgusting, cowardly behaviour. And it’s even more shameful when the bully is a grown adult who should know better.

Why is bullying a problem for businesses?

Apart from the obvious emotional impact on the victim, workplace bullying and harassment costs the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion every year. On average, each claim costs employers between $17,000 to $24,000, depending on the case.

Money aside, the human impact of workplace bullying and harassment can be devastating, often resulting in significant detrimental effects to the individual, those around them, and to the reputation and overall profitability of an Organisation.

The effects of bullying spread far beyond the bully and victim. Even if the bullying itself goes unrecognised within the wider team, they may be impacted by increased absenteeism, loss of productivity and poor morale.

Once bullying is recognised, time will need to be spent documenting, pursuing or defending claims, impacting again on workload and productivity. These effects can be ongoing and long-lasting, if the original issue not dealt with quickly and efficiently.

The original issue itself may be complex. We often think of bullying as coming from an individual or a group (with ‘pack mentality’, perhaps). However, research by Beyond Blue  found many wider factors can contribute to workplace bullying, such as a lack of positive interpersonal relationships, open lines of communication or strong workplace culture.

How to differentiate between harassment, bullying and discrimination

  • Workplace Harassment: Can be a single instance of offensive behaviour, which usually involves race, age, sex or other criteria that come under anti-discrimination legislation.
  • Workplace bullying: Is the repetitive, prolonged abuse of power that is unreasonable and is accompanied by escalating behaviours, aggressively directed at one or more workers and causes humiliation, offence, intimidation and distress.
  • Discrimination: The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

How to recognise bullying is taking place at your Organisation

Be aware of the warning signs – there are many. I’ve listed some common indications of bullying below:

  • Is one of your colleagues or team members suddenly taking a lot of sick days?
  • Has general staff morale decreased?
  • Is a team member being purposefully excluded from meetings, decisions, discussions, lunches, coffees or in other ways being isolated?
  • Does one team member always seem to be delegated the worst of the team’s tasks?
  • Is there hostile competition within the team?
  • Do you see one member of the team constantly being made a scapegoat?
  • Are employees being lied to or manipulated?
  • Are expectations being shifted suddenly and without reason?

Whether you are the leader of your Organisation, or a member of the team, if you recognise any of these warning signs, speak up. Communicate with your line manager or other members of the senior leadership team and work together to resolve the issue. Of course, if you work in an Organisation which has a culture that proactively discourages speaking up and open lines of communication, or is one where bullying is inherently part of the culture and you’re not in a position to change that, the biggest question is… why are you still working there?!

How to manage workplace bullying.

As a leader or senior executive, you can take some steps to prevent bullying at work occuring in the first place, and manage it swiftly if it does.

  1. Create and implement a ZERO tolerance to bullying policy. Have a plan in place.  Identify the factors that might allow bullying to take place and form a clear policy that is implemented and backed up by strong leadership – lead from the top and be the best example of your policy. Reaffirm the policy regularly – for example, in the monthly all-staff meeting, you can remind everyone that bullying will not be tolerated within the Organisation. Review and update this policy regularly.
  2. Empower your employees to speak up. Ensure your team knows the Organisation has a policy of open lines of communication and anyone can speak up about bullying without fear of retribution. Ensure everyone knows your ZERO tolerance to bullying policy and the steps they should take to report it, if they suspect bullying is going on, or are themselves victims of it. Train your frontline managers and supervisors in how to deal with bullying.
  3. Act quickly. Take all claims of bullying seriously and deal with them in a timely manner. Do not ignore bullying, thinking it will go away. It won’t.

What happens if the bully is your boss?

An Organisation can only be as good as its people, and culture comes from the top. If you are being bullied by your line manager, or someone on your team is, consider whether there is a senior manager above that person who should be informed, and talk to them about it.

However, if the bullying is an inherent part of the workplace culture, or if the CEO or MD is themselves a bully, then you have to ask yourself the question – is it time to find a new job, in an Organisation that values, supports, empowers and lifts up their employees?

Remember, gifted, transformational and involved leaders who value the importance of healthy and happy workplace relations, ensure their teams communicate well and regularly, and are supportive and encouraging of each other, no matter what.

As a leader, don’t let workplace bullying and harassment adversely affect your people, your productivity, your reputation and your profits. And as an employee, don’t stand for workplace bullying – speak up, act fast, or get out.

Pure Magic International Business Solutions is an award-winning company, passionate about helping clients achieve strategic business outcomes through leadership, management and people development strategies and techniques at all levels and by using a range of easy-to-implement HR and Organisational development strategies. To find out more, head to www.puremagicbusiness.com.au.

If you’d like to discuss any concerns or ideas you have about bullying at work, book a free discussion on https://my.timetrade.com/book/QGY21 today!

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

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