Can you tell a difference between an employee bullying another employee and playful teasing between two employees? As an HR professional, you know it can be hard sometimes to identify what is genuine workplace bullying and what is regular colleague bantering. This article will guide you on workplace bullying and what you can do to create a happier and more productive workplace.
What does workplace bullying look like?
Here are a few subtle signs of bullying at work:
- Deceit. Repeatedly lying, not telling the truth, concealing the truth, deceiving others to get one’s way, and creating false hopes with no plans to fulfil them
- Intimidation. Open or veiled threats; fear-inducing communication and behaviour
- Ignoring. Purposefully ignoring, avoiding, or not paying attention to someone; purposefully excluding someone out from a meeting; selectively greeting or interacting with others except the victim
- Isolation/exclusion. Intentionally making someone feel socially or physically isolated from a group; purposely excluding someone from decisions, conversations, and work-related events
- Rationalisation. Regularly justifying, defending behaviour or making excuses for acting in a specific manner
- Minimisation. Minimising, discounting, or failing to address someone’s legitimate concerns or opinions
- Diversion. Dodging problems, playing dumb, changing the subject to distract away from the issue, cancelling meetings, and avoiding colleagues
- Shame and guilt. Making an employee constantly feel that they are the problem, shaming them for no real wrongdoing, or making them feel incompetent
- Undermining work. Purposely delaying and blocking an employee’s work, progress on a project, or success; promising them projects and then giving them to others;
- Pitting employees against each other. Unnecessarily and intentionally pitting employees against one another to stimulate competition, create conflict, or establish winners and losers
- Removal of responsibility. Removing an employee's responsibilities, changing their role, or replacing aspects of their job without just cause
- Impossible or changing expectations. Setting nearly impossible expectations and work guidelines; changing those expectations to set up workers to fail
- Constant change and inconsistency. Constantly changing expectations, guidelines, and scope of responsibilities; constant inconsistency of word and action
- Criticism. Constantly criticising someone's work or behaviour, usually for groundless reasons
- Withholding information. Intentionally keeping information from someone or giving them the wrong information
- Projection of blame. Placing blame to others and using them as a scapegoat; not taking responsibility for problems or issues
- Taking credit. Taking credit for other employee's ideas and contributions without acknowledging them
- Creating a feeling of uselessness. Making an employee feel underused; intentionally rarely delegating the employee their work; always giving employees unfavourable tasks and responsibilities
Obvious signs of workplace bullying
Workplace bullying can also be more obvious.
- Aggression. Shouting at an employee; showing anger verbally or non-verbally
- Intrusion. Tampering with an employee's personal belongings; intruding on an employee by unnecessarily sneaking around their desk; stalking, spying, or bothering an employee
- Coercion. Aggressively forcing an employee to do things against their will
- Punishment. Undeservedly punishing an employee with physical discipline, psychologically through passive aggression, or emotionally through isolation
- Belittling. Regularly insulting an employee's ideas or work, in an undeserving manner
- Embarrassment. Degrading or humiliating an employee publicly
- Revenge. Acting vindictive towards an employee;
- Threats. Threatening unwarranted punishment, discipline, termination, and/or physical, emotional, or psychological abuse
- Offensive communication. Communicating offensively by using profanity, demeaning jokes, untrue rumours, or harassment
- Campaigning. Launching an underhanded campaign to dismiss a person out of the organisation
- Blocking advancement or growth. Impeding an employee’s progression, growth, and/or advancement in the organisation unfairly
Don't allow bullies to terrorise the workplace
What should HR do?
Human Resources need to make sure that the employees are protected from unfair treatment in the workplace. Here are some steps to take
Create a policy
Write a policy that protects employees from bullying behaviour in the office. While the law does not protect employees from bullying, you can.
Write a code of conduct
Your company should have a code of conduct in the employee handbook, which includes respectful behaviour from all employees and sets the tone for a professional work environment.
Train the employees
Train staff on soft skills and especially workplace bullying. Make sure they recognise the right and wrong ways to treat one another on the job. Similarly, teach managers constructive ways to drive behaviour and results they want.
Monitor staff behaviour throughout the office. If you notice signs of bullying in the workplace, address the situation directly with the person.
Look out for controlling personnel
Some employees who always talk about control should be watched closely. Most are harmless, just perfectionists trying to control results and work, but some employees take control to a different level which is often harmful.
Have a confidential way for employees to report a bullying case
Create a mechanism for employees to confidentially report bullying issues in the workplace without fear or retaliation.
Recognise employees' distress
Look for confusion, frustration, discomfort, fear, overt emotional displays, and avoiding one's superior, which are all signs that an employee is in distress at work and uncomfortable in their situation.
Investigate the complaints and document them
Treat every complaint about bullying seriously and fairly. Be someone your employee can trust. Be sure to document any behaviour incidents that you hear from employees.
Your employees simply cannot perform at top levels if they are worried about a bully in the workplace. Some employees will complain to friends or other colleagues in other businesses which can damage your organisation's reputation and reducing its ability to attract top talent. Others will leave for a better workplace, leaving you with the cost and inconvenience of finding and training new employees.
Don't allow workplace bullying to bring the organisation down. Start identifying negative behaviours so you can stop them before it's too late.
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Sources: Easy Small Business HR & ERC
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