by Shayne Thomas
06 Jun 2019
The Troubling Truth About Workplace Bullying
Why bullying is always the quickest path to a toxic work culture
If you were ever bullied—even in the most harmless of ways—at some point during your childhood, there’s a good chance you’ve had this thought pass through your head once or twice: “One day, when I’m older, I won’t have to deal with this anymore.”
As kids, we were taught to believe that bullying was more or less something that only happened at school, something that would become a non-issue once we became adults. But the sad truth is: there are far too many instances today where the truism of “once a bully, always a bully” still holds water. And it’s had a profoundly negative impact on the workplace.
The Workplace Bullying Institute defines this behavior as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (i.e. the ‘targets’) by one or more perpetrators—abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating and can also be seen as ‘sabotage’ that prevents work from getting done.” Basically, it’s bad, it’s unacceptable, and it’s a surefire way to undermine employee productivity and, most importantly, happiness. As an HR leader, workplace bullying is not something you can ignore. You can’t just give a slap on the wrist in hopes that the perpetrator’s behavior will miraculously change overnight after an employee has filed a workplace bullying complaint. Doing so will only perpetuate—and, even worse, indirectly condone—that bad behavior, creating a momentary “band-aid” until the perpetrator strikes again. Therefore, any instance of workplace bullying must be nipped in the bud immediately because, if not, it will most certainly have negative repercussions for your business over time—even well beyond a toxic work culture.
The negative impact of workplace bullying going unnoticed
The stats don’t lie: almost half (46%) of employees have said that workplace bullying has had an adverse effect on work performance. More than one-third (36%) have quit their job as a result of bullying. More broadly, as either a target or a witness, a whopping 75% of employees say they’ve been affected by workplace bullying in some way. Not only is this bad for your business’s bottom line in the long-term, but it’s also an unfortunate—and inefficient— way to lose top talent. Not to mention, it forces you to restart the recruitment cycle over and over again for the same role. If you’ve found yourself in this position before, have you asked yourself: “Why am I constantly hiring for the same role when I should really be replacing the employee causing all this talent to leave?”
The truth is, it’s not always easy to do this, especially if you’re dealing with an employee that’s been with your company for a while, but it’s these kinds of tough decisions that HR leaders have to make, all in the best interest of a business’s future. When it comes to workplace bullying, how you respond must be completely objective and not biased by personal relationships. The good news is that workplace bullying is finally getting its much needed time in the spotlight, that is for the benefit of employees. For example, in Australia, a series of national anti-bullying laws have been put in place to make bullying, in general, an inexcusable act. The United States, however, has fallen somewhat behind the trend: there is currently no comprehensive workplace bullying legislation passed at either the state or federal level. Though, as more countries begin to take a more serious stance on anti-bullying, it’s only a matter of time until the U.S. follows.
Overcoming workplace bullying
Fortunately, as the world begins to address workplace bullying—and the negative impact it can have on businesses—in a more serious way, a number of resources are emerging to help both HR leaders and employees deal with it head-on. For example, there are conferences today where you can learn more about your legal obligations and get advice on how to deal with workplace bullying if it has, indeed, become part of the fabric of your company. But there are also a few best practices that you can implement immediately to eradicate workplace bullying from your company’s culture. As a starting point, identify how your business potentially (and unknowingly) enables bullying and use those findings to change the systems in place that perpetuate those bad behaviors. Equally, make it clear company-wide that you do not tolerate bullying whatsoever and that you will always stand beside—and in support of—bullied employees. A great way to do this is by giving employees a direct, confidential, and perhaps even anonymous line into HR for filing a workplace bullying complaint. Lastly, make a point to reward positive behaviors publicly. By creating organizational structures that reinforce problem-solving and other key performance markers, it becomes easier to denounce, discourage, and even punish the most notorious offenders because that bad behavior is clearly antithetical to a business’s growth- and innovation-based initiatives (among other things).
Long story short: there is no place in this world for workplace bullying—much less bullying, in general. However, as an HR leader, you have the unique opportunity to build a positive workplace culture that drives results, builds confidence, and ensures employee happiness. See this as an opportunity to change your business for the better.
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