Workplace Bullying – The Signs, Prevention and Protection

Workplace bullyingHow to prevent workplace bullying from interfering with cohesive team building in the corporate workplace.

Here at Scavenger Hunt Anywhere, we’re all about building cohesive teams and a strong sense of purpose among employees in the workplace. Unfortunately, however, there will always be obstacles to overcome in attaining a quality work environment and recently workplace bullying has stepped into the spotlight.

The type of behaviour associated with workplace bullying can include (but is not limited to), harassment, incivility, gossiping, demeaning others, intimidation, verbal, nonverbal, psychological and physical abuse, and even withholding information. It is persistent abusive behaviour present  at all levels in the workplace so much so that a Workplace Bullying Institute’s (WBI) Survey reports that workplace bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal harassment.

Although the purpose of fun social work events is to strengthen communication and even empathy, bullying can arise even during corporate team building events often stemming from individuals who feel threatened.  These individuals often  translate their feelings into aggressive actions in an effort to place themselves above others.

If not reigned in, workplace bullying may contribute to high levels of stress, absenteeism and productivity loss which can ultimately be costly to an organization. The WBI estimated an average Fortune 500 company can lose up to $24 million between turnover and lost productivity due to workplace bullying.  That doesn’t include litigation and settlement costs should the problem escalate to that level.

The good news is, from a managerial point of view, there are methods emerging  to prevent workplace bullying all together.  Some of these include:

  • Keep anti-bullying priorities in mind when hiring. No matter how qualified someone may be for the position, if his or her personality is one that will potentially undermine the integrity and positive environment of the office, you may want to avoid hiring that individual.
  • Talk openly about bullying at the highest levels of the organization. It should be made clear that bullying will not be tolerated in any form at any level.
  • Do not tolerate unprofessional behaviour that is demeaning to others, even behaviour as “insignificant” as eye-rolling, sneering and undermining comments.
  • Take bulling claims seriously, but tread carefully. Don’t jump to conclusions until you have gathered evidence and analysed at the situation from all sides.
  • Make the well-being of your employees a priority. If you need to let someone go because of their negative, unprofessional behaviour – let them go. It doesn’t solve the problem to simply re-shuffle a problematic employee elsewhere in the organization and potentially allow the poisonous behaviour to spread throughout the company thus putting other employees at risk.
  • In a team building setting, watch for unconstructive behaviour displayed by an employee toward others. For example, someone who verbally or physically cuts down the efforts of another, or someone who insists on dominating the exercise rather than working as part of a team. Deal with this behaviour accordingly.
  • DOCUMENT EVERYTHING.  This should speak for itself.

Should you be the unfortunate target of workplace bullying, there are various avenues to pursue to protect yourself:

  • Talk to the employee who is the source of harassment. In some cases, this may not be possible or may be an unwise decision depending on the gravity of the situation. However, it’s wise to attempt to tackle a problem at its source. If speaking to your colleague directly is not an option?
  • Talk to your manager. He or she should take your concerns seriously and take appropriate action.
  • Consider filing a complaint with H.R.  This option should be available to you should you feel the need to elevate your complaint to an official level.
  • Sick leave and disability insurance are sometimes options to consider should the harassment escalate to a level that threatens your mental or physical health.
  • Human rights legislation.  Should the basis of the bullying violate protected human rights grounds – if you are targeted because of your age, race, religion, gender or a disability for example – you have grounds on which to take legal action against the bully or bullies, and possibly the company for not taking action to prevent this type of harassment and protect its employees.
  • Constructive dismissal lawsuits are sometimes an option when harassment issues are unrelated to a violation of human rights legislation. Keep mind however, these types of cases are often risky and contentious.
  • Again, document everything.

It takes the communal effort of all to build productive work environments in which employees feel safe and are able to put their best foot forward. Consider what part you play in the puzzle and hopefully, in time, workplace bullying will be a thing of the past.