Workplace Bullying: What Would You Do?
Find out about workplace bullying and what you can do in this special guest post from Endurance International Group (“EIG”) Compliance Officer & i2Coalition Diversity & Inclusion Initiative Co-Chair Darcy Southwell and Shannon Martinson, Senior Human Resources Director at EIG.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone near you was being bullied? Maybe it was a coworker you knew well. Or maybe one you didn’t. Did you feel prepared to know how to respond? What did you do? Or did you do anything?
It’s not easy to know how to respond. But one thing is certain, if you have some practical tools at your disposal when you find yourself in this situation, you’ll be better prepared to act.
What is Workplace Bullying?
Bullying may be done through actions, verbal comments and physical contact. It may include repeated occurrences or be demonstrated through a pattern of behavior that is intended to intimidate, humiliate, offend or degrade a specific individual or group of people. Bullying is a form of aggression and may be subtle or quite obvious. Examples include tampering with personal belongings or work equipment, spreading malicious rumors, intimidation and physical abuse, or the threat of physical violence.
Interfering with work, preventing work from getting done, or sabotaging projects are other ways bullying may occur. Examples include taking and hiding equipment or tools needed to perform the job and exclusion from meetings or emails that contain important information pertaining to the job.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is “four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job.” One of the reasons why workplace bullying may be more prevalant than sexual harassment and racial discrimination is that many workplaces do not provide education or awareness about bullying – and many don’t see it as a problem. People who are bullied may not know how to report it or even understand that they are being bullied. In order to provide increased awareness, many states are introducing workplace anti-bullying bills and the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reported in 2018 that 29 states have introduced these bills. If these pass, employers and employees will hopefully be equipped with greater knowledge of what bullying is and how to identify and stop it.
Impact of Workplace Bullying
The negative impact of bullying affects both the target of bullying as well as the company.
Victims of bullying experience significant problems financially, mentally, and physically:
- High levels of stress; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Financial problems due to missed work and medical appointments
- Sleep disturbances
The company also suffers when bullying occurs:
- Reduced productivity and motivation
- Increased use of sick time, health care claims and Leaves of Absence (LOA)
- Increased risk of legal action and costly claims
- Decreased morale
- Increased turnover
What Can You Do?
Here are some concrete ideas of what you can do when you see someone being bullied.
- Speak up. If you’re in a meeting and a coworker is repeatedly talked over by another, you can raise your hand and offer, “Before I speak, I think Sara may not have completed her thought. Sara, you want to finish that idea?” Or you could say, “I think Michael was really onto something. Michael, do you want to finish your thought from earlier?” Provide the opportunity for the target to speak.
- Lend your support to the target. Seek out the target in private. You can provide support by simply indicating your agreement with their idea or by specifically stating you saw the bullying behavior and are willing to provide them with support.
- Speak with the bully. If you feel comfortable, speak to the bully in private and share your observations that they often talk over Sara in meetings. Listen carefully to the bully’s response to determine if the bully is receptive to changing their behavior.
- Report it. Remember you can report bullying behavior to whomever you feel comfortable. That could be to your Human Resources department, a manager or other leader, or using your company’s whistleblower hotline. The target of bullying may not feel comfortable reporting it. You don’t have to be the target to make a report.
- Don’t assume or make judgments. Don’t spend time speculating about why someone bullied another. Any assumptions you make are just guesses and may be completely wrong. Instead, consider taking the actions discussed above, to the extent you feel comfortable.
- Recommend awareness. Speak to your Human Resources department about providing training or meetings to bring forth awareness as to what bullying is and how to prevent it. Proactive measures will help others to identify bullying, know the steps to stop it and to better understand that bullying will not be tolerated.
According to research from the University of Phoenix, 75% of employees have either been witness to or themselves the target of workplace bullying. Employers need to do more to provide education and awareness to the employees as well as define a process to handle bullying in an expeditious manner. By committing to providing a safe and healthy work environment for all, employers can commit to taking swift action to prevent bullying from entering the workplace.
75% Of Workers Are Affected By Bullying — Here’s What To Do About It by Christine Comaford, Forbes
Founded in 1997, the Workplace Bullying Institute is the first and only U.S. organization dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying that combines help for individuals, research, books, public education, training for professionals-unions-employers, legislative advocacy, and consulting solutions for organizations.
Workplace Bullying and Harassment: What’s the Difference? by Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP