A recent study reports more than half of employees in global businesses witnessed or experienced workplace bullying. While that’s alarming, research focused on the U.S. says closer to 75 percent of employees have been impacted by workplace bullying.
What are some of those impacts? Individuals experiencing bullying report increased stress, depression, lower self-esteem and disengagement. A company culture that allows workplace bullying to go unchecked is a culture that will struggle with overall retention, productivity and worker satisfaction. While the social-emotional and productivity impacts are not to be ignored, studies cited in Safety and Health Magazine also show an increased risk of cardiovascular disease at rates rivaling diabetes and drinking as risk factors.
Given these impacts, it’s not surprising workplace bullying is getting significant attention from both researchers and the popular press. While it would be easy to assume, then, that solutions are being proactively developed, that’s not always the case. Several factors impact HR and other company leadership’s ability to aggressively tackle this hot topic.
One challenge is that workplace bullying can be seen as harmless, unintentional, or a matter of subjective interpretation. To counter that, the Workplace Bullying Institute says to look for deliberate behavior or language that is repeated, harmful, intimidating, insulting, humiliating or sabotages the target according to an article in Entrepreneur. When looking, it’s also important to look up and down the corporate ladder. This kind of workplace problem can come from a coworker or a misuse of power by a manager or leader.
According to an article in The HR Director, while more than 9 in 10 businesses want to make feeling safe a hallmark of employee wellbeing, only 1 in 10 is doing something about it. One reason so few are taking action is due to a disconnect about who should take the lead. Senior management skews toward expecting HR to take the lead, but most employees think management should be leading. A first critical step, then, is determining if employee psychological safety is a priority and then empowering a department or team to do something.
Once your team is ready, here are five steps to take.
Establish policies against bullying and to address allegations if you don’t already have them. If you do have policies, take meaningful time to assess and improve them. Consider your social media policies as well. Not all workplace bullying happens at a physical place of work. Much happens online.
Educate employees on new or existing policies. Employees who know there are clear systems in place are more satisfied and more likely to get help. Consider onboarding education for new employees and how you can let them know you’re a company with a plan in place. Formal training that addresses bullying and how to intercede as a bystander can put everyone on the same team.
Empower employees to report bullying. Many people who experience workplace bullying are unsure if they should report it, worried they’ll get in trouble if they do report it, and aren’t comfortable reporting it because they’re being bullied by a supervisor or manager.
Explore how your workplace works for gig economy freelancers and contractors. It’s important to decide how your HR department will acknowledge and deal with their bullying concerns. Are they less likely to report something you should know about because they have less job security or don’t feel protected by policies?
Exemplify the type of behavior you wish to see, says Forbes. Workplace civility and culture start at the top, and managers set expectations. Take claims seriously, behave in respectful, authentic ways, and you’re on your way to a better experience for your employees.