Workplace Bullying - Fact or Fiction? Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

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It's 2016, right? We know enough about discrimination and harassment that this "myth" of workplace bullying needs to be debunked, right? WRONG!

I'm writing this from a perspective that has been tainted by an actual workplace situation being faced by one of my daughters today. But, I am writing also to prepare you, the small business owner, to face some of these realities and become proactive in stopping such behavior before it becomes rooted in your culture.

When we think of "bullying" we generally picture high school locker rooms or playgrounds where emotionally or physically immature kids are taken advantage of by bigger, more aggressive students. Who doesn't want to help those victims?

But, the workplace bully is different from that schoolyard kid. In fact, according to HRMorning.com, there are at least eight workplace bully personality types. And the behaviors exhibited by those bullies take on many forms - from exclusion from workplace or after-hours activities, rude or excessive and unwarranted criticism, belittling of co-workers, attempts at sabotage of work or relationships, swearing and raised voices.

Some Statistics to Ponder

According to a 2014 study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI),

  • 65 million workers have been affected by workplace bullying.
  • Nearly 30% of workers had experienced some type of bullying on the job.
  • 69% of bullies are male, females comprise the other 31%. Females bullied other women in 68% of the cases.
  • 72% of those surveyed felt their workplace rationalized or encouraged a culture of bullying or denied it existed at all.
  • Bosses or supervisors are the majority of bullies.
  • 61% of the targets interviewed lost their jobs as the only way of stopping the bullying and the perpetrators lost their jobs only 15% of the time.
  • 93% of the participants supported the Healthy Workplace Bill - a grassroots effort to apply pressure upon state legislatures and the federal government to enact legislation to stop workplace bullying.
  • Additional statistics in a flyer you can download.

High Cost of Bullying

If there is no law against bullying today and very few laws requiring training for supervisors (except for Utah, Tennessee and California), what impact does bullying have on your workplace? Is it worth your time and expense to provide training to prevent this kind of behavior? When you consider some of those stats noted earlier (65 million employees impacted), what about loss of productivity and turnover to avoid a bully? This kind of turnover is costly to your bottom line.

Steps You Can Take to Minimize Your Liability

This is a lot of information to digest and you are probably asking, "What can I do about this in my workplace?" Initially, get educated. Learn the signs of bullying, because while there is no law on the books today against bullying, there are other laws that might apply:

  • Hostile work environment
  • Discrimination against protected categories (race, sexual orientation, disability).

In a future article, I will go into more depth on each of these steps, but for now, just be aware of ways to minimize your exposure:

  • Promote a positive culture in your workplace.
  • Investigate any complaints of bullying seriously and promptly.
  • Train your supervisors on how to identify bullying and how to address the situation properly.

Bullying in the workplace is a serious issue with real costs. If you have not given this situation any honest consideration, now is the time before turnover, absenteeism or "stress" workers compensation claims become all too common. HR Solutions may be right at your fingertips. To learn more about how you can protect your business, give us a call or drop us a line.

This article is acknowledging "Freedom from Workplace Bullies" week October 16 to 22, 2016. For more information, click here.

Margaret Jacoby, SPHR, is the founder and president of MJ Management Solutions, a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive. This article first appeared on the MJ Management Solutions blog.

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