As many as three-quarters of US workers have experienced some type of bullying at work. Even more worryingly, 72% felt their workplace rationalized a culture of bullying or denied it existed at all.
The effects on staff are profound – loss of self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression. But there’s a significant impact on businesses as well – increased turnover, reputational damage, even legal action.
UK research suggests bullying caused 200,000 employees to leave their jobs and cost the loss of 33.5 million days of productivity due to absenteeism – in just one year!
October is Bullying Prevention Month, so to mark this we present seven ways businesses can promote positive behavior and banish bullying from the workplace.
1. Start at the beginning
The tone of a workplace is set from the beginning. It’s the countless proscribed rules and unspoken understandings that tell employees how to act. Behaviors, both positive and negative, are formed the minute staff walk through the door.
That makes it essential to spell out expectations from the get-go. Outline the company policy around bullying in the induction material given to all new hires. Follow this up with regular awareness programs to repeat key points – establish an awareness week and arrange some participatory activities to get staff involved.
2. Build positive culture
Maintaining a workplace culture which shuns bullying is an everyday job. If neglected, it can unravel quickly and undermine everything that you’ve built up. For managers, it’s about ensuring compliance and encouraging confidence.
Reinforce positive behavior through passive communication channels. Custom corporate wallpaper that appear on all employee computer screens increase awareness and build positive behaviors almost subliminally. The ultimate goal is to embed a culture of zero tolerance for bullying.
3. Bring it into the open
No person, business or industry is immune to workplace bullying. Often the hardest instances to see are the ones which on the surface feel least likely to happen. Take the male-dominated world of construction – bullying can be commonplace, but victims typically feel like they are ‘weak’ if they report it. Communicating openly about the subject reduces the stigma around it and reinforces zero tolerance.
Pay particular attention to the field-based, remote and dispersed staff of decentralized workplaces. Appoint an ethics champion at each location to whom all staff can speak. Arrange dedicated support or training sessions for them. This also discourages bullying by removing any sense that corporate office policies don’t apply to them.
4. Know what to do
Since it’s not always possible to eliminate bullying entirely, there needs to be a process for addressing it when it occurs. Make it easy for staff to know what to do in the event of reporting bullying, and for managers to know the steps to take to resolve it.
Set up an anonymous hotline that anyone can call, whether victim or observer. This is an effective means for staff to whistle-blow if bullying occurs – without fear of being labelled a ‘snitch’.
Maintain an online repository of guidance on who to speak to, how the hotline works, what support is available, and so on. Locate this somewhere accessible on your corporate intranet. Keep this area updated with helpful resources and let staff know whenever it’s updated.
5. Lead from the front
From our earliest age, we’re trained to learn from our elders. From our parents to our superiors, we adopt the behaviors we witness. In the workplace, it’s essential that managers exhibit the attitudes and behaviors you want staff to adhere to.
Give managers leadership training to help them effectively manage and supervise employees. Train your managers to intervene early to recognize and deal with any unreasonable behavior before it escalates. Consider working with an external agency which specializes in this field.
6. Identify the warning signs
Each employee’s tolerance for bullying, and response to it, is different. As an employer, you ultimately want to nip any instances of bullying in the bud, but in larger workplaces it can be difficult to spot the warning signs.
Workplace trends like absentee or illness rates can provide helpful clues, but for a true sense of the office mood try putting in place feedback mechanisms. An anonymous employee survey fosters a sense of openness by encouraging staff to reach out for help.
Financial services company Orion recently introduced a simple but hugely effective ‘rate your day’ survey to gauge employee morale daily, in real time.
7. Encourage positive actions
Being a responsible employer is providing positive direction as well as dealing with negative disruption. Our capacity to handle bullying is largely governed by our state of mind. If we’re stressed or unhappy, we find ourselves less able to deal with it.
Encourage staff taking actions which reduce bullying-induced stress, such as exercise at lunchtime or walking meetings. Make use of light-hearted business events to celebrate the diversity of your workforce and encourage teams to mix – thereby building richer perspectives of co-workers as real people.
Workplace bullying is a genuine threat to today’s organizations. It reduces morale, destabilizes the workforce and inhibits performance. Getting proactive with identifying the signs and addressing the issues is a giant leap towards making your workplace bully-free – and making every employee happier as a result.