How to Identify And Manage Workplace Bullying

HR Management
Samantha Hirsch March 16, 2022 9 min read

Putting an end to workplace bullying shows your employees that you care, but preventing bullying in the first place cultivates a company culture worth emulating. Follow this guide to learn how to ward off bullying before it begins and what to do if you’ve noticed it happening to you or others.

workplace bullying

Quick Guide

    Workplace bullying can be as subtle as not inviting a specific coworker to lunch, or as aggressive as sabotaging their work.

    Whatever the case may be, there’s a good chance that at least one person in your office has suffered from workplace bullying. Over 93% of employees have experienced some kind of bullying at work as of 2019. Workplace bullying leads to mental and physical distress for those bullied, not to mention the financial strains it can have on your  company. 

    Differentiating between constructive criticism and bullying can be a thin line, but if there’s ever a situation where you or an employee dreads going to the office, it’s a problem that deserves immediate attention. 

    Ending workplace bullying enhances the company culture, which boosts employee morale and ultimately leads to the company’s success.

    Identifying Different Types of Workplace Bullying 

    Preventing workplace bullying can only be done once you know what to look out for. After all, it can take many forms.

    Here are the four main types of bullying: 

    1. Aggressive: An aggressive bully might scream at coworkers, threaten them or use other means of intimidation
    2. Critical: Uses criticism, mockery, jokes, gossip, or other methods to humiliate and exclude coworkers.  
    3. Gatekeeper: Someone who might withhold resources and relationships to manipulate others into doing what they want, including taking credit for someone else’s ideas, work sabotage, and even completely ignoring a coworker. 
    4. Institutional: Where a company accepts, allows, and even encourages forced overtime, singling out employees not hitting targets, or setting unrealistic performance goals. 

    Because bullying is oftentimes psychological, it may not be visible to others. How do you know what you should look for to stop bullying in its tracks?  

    Early Warning Signs

    You might be the one being targeted and not even know it until it’s too late. To stop a bully from targeting you or any coworkers, be on the lookout for early warning signs. 

    Keep an eye out for the following: 

    • Coworkers avoiding an employee or ignoring them altogether 
    • If someone is regularly left out of parties, get-togethers, or team activities
    • Managers are constantly checking on an employee leaving them to feel that their work isn’t up to par
    • An employee is criticized or ridiculed for not completing a difficult task outside of their regular role even after asking for help
    • If suddenly a coworkers work-related or personal belongings go missing 

    There are many more ways someone can be bullied, so always trust your gut feeling. 

    Who is Doing the Workplace Bullying? 

    Bullies can be anyone – men or women, managers or subordinates. But 70% of the time, men are the culprits. It’s also worth noting that men and women alike generally target women.

    Subordinates are bullied 61% of the time by managers, coworkers bully each other 33% of the time, and subordinates bully their supervisors 6% of the time. 

    Managers bullying in the workplace can include: 

    • Unjustified negative performance reviews 
    • Firing or demotion
    • Denying requested time off 
    • Blocking promotions or requests to change departments 

    Workplace bullying from coworkers is often: 

    • Gossip and rumors 
    • Work sabotage
    • Criticism 

    Subordinates bullying their supervisors can be: 

    • Refusal to complete tasks 
    • Doing things to make their manager seem incompetent 
    • Disregarding direction given by the manager

    How Workplace Bullies Get Away With It

    In many cases, bullies are high performers, so companies have an incentive to keep those employees on board and happy. If they’re creating value for the company, the company has motive to look the other way. 

    If the bully is manipulative they are surely sneaky and dishonest. They may even come off as ‘helping’ by critisizing or taking over projects. Bullies may put on a friendly front with upper management to avoid any serious repercussions. When this happens, they might even be rewarded for their contributions to the company no matter the cost, making reporting them even more intimidating. 

    Managing difficult employees is demanding and it’s often easier for management to ignore the problem employees especially if they are high performers and earners. 

    There are lots of reasons for management to discount a high performing bully, don’t let that happen. 

    Effects of Bullying on the Individual 

    Being bullied creates lasting psychological trauma and even has negative physical effects. Stress and low self-esteem could flow into every aspect of your life. 

    Knowing you will be bullied day in and day out at work can: 

    Cause you to physically feel aches and pains

    Increase your heart rate and blood pressure

    Upset your stomach and cause digestive issues

    Lead to headaches, dizziness, and shaking

    Cause loss of appetite

    Affect quality of sleep

    Cause depression

    Increase self-doubt

    Lead to suicidal thoughts

    dealing with workplace bullying

    Effects of Bullying on the Workplace

    When employees are bullied their minds begin to fill with so much noise that they cannot focus on work tasks leading to financial losses in the company. 

    Productivity decreases when teams don’t trust each other and have a hard time working together. When there is low morale people struggle to stay motivated and focused because of their fear of being bullied. 

    Employee absences will increase until eventually the employee reaches a breaking point and quits. An increase in employee turnover is very expensive when having to recruit and train new employees. Over $18 billion is wasted every year due to bully-related absences, turnover, and decreased productivity. Finding potential recruits also becomes increasingly difficult when the company culture and vibes are negative.  

    If the bullying continues it can affect more than just the employee being bullied, but can spread into the entire company culture leading to a lack of trust, a decrease in morale, and poor team dynamics.

    How to Take Action 

    Prevent Bullying Before It Starts

    As the employer, you have a duty to maintain a safe work environment for your employees.

    To ensure safety in the workplace you have to make it clear that you do not tolerate workplace bullying. 

    You can do this by: 

    • Creating an environment where open communication is rewarded 
    • Defining workplace bullying and unacceptable behavior 
    • Committing to the prevention of workplace bullying and enforcing the consequences of bullying 
    • Outline the process once a complaint has been made so employees can be sure their complaints will be dealt with promptly
    • Encourage the reporting of unacceptable behavior and bullying 
    • Training management to spot and stop bullying 
    • Ensure the process will remain confidential 
    • Assure no retaliation or reprisals will be made against the employee filing a complaint 
    • Explain the procedure of how your company plans to investigate  
    • Make a commitment to support the bullied employees, including counseling if needed
    • Offer assistance programs to all employees to seek help with work-related and personal problems 
    • Regularly monitor, review, and, if needed, revise the company policy

    Connecteam offers a range of tools to easily and effectively train employees in company policies and ensure victim’s of bullying can safely file a complaint. Try Connecteam 30 days for free now.

    What To Do When an Employee is Being Bullied 

    If an employee comes to you claiming to have been bullied, you need to investigate and stop the bullying. 

    You can do this by:

    1. Taking all claims seriously 
    2. Act quickly
    3. Maintain confidentiality 
    4. Be neutral during the investigation
    5. Support all employees
    6. Be transparent with the investigation timeline
    7. Communicating the process of the investigation
    8. Keep all records 

    Once the bullying is resolved: 

    1. Provide training for all staff 
    2. Recommit to company policies 
    3. Offer counseling to those affected

    What To Do When You Are Being Bullied

    If you’re being bullied in the workplace follow these steps: 

    1. Learn about your company’s behavioral policy. Find out all details regarding employee conduct, how to inform supervisors of misconduct, and the steps the company takes once a complaint has been filed. 
    2. If you feel safe, speak directly to the person bullying you. Calling out the bully may stop them from continuing to bully you. It’s possible the bully may not even be aware that they are harassing you and once you bring it to their attention they have the opportunity to stop before it escalates. 
    3. If the bullying continues involve a manager or HR assuming the bullying isn’t coming from HR or management. Let them know of the situation and find out how they can help. 
    4. Keep records. Gather any evidence supporting your claims, including dates and times of specific incidents, any witnesses that saw what happened, and what exactly happened. If the bullying was via email or another form of written communication, save the documents. 
    5. File an official complaint if HR or management hasn’t solved the issue. Once a formal complaint is filed, they will have to investigate or be held liable. 
    6. If the bullying persists involve a lawyer. Learn what your rights are and what legal action can be taken. 

    Takeaway 

    Bullying can mentally and physically harm the target but it doesn’t end there, the whole company is at risk. Before the bullying, culture seeps into every department, it’s up to management to nip it in the bud and ensure employee satisfaction. 

    If you notice any bullying or anyone has made a complaint, take it seriously and resolve the issue promptly. 

    Something you see as harmless banter may create an environment where the employee dreads coming to work every day. If this happens, productivity will decrease and the company will be poorly impacted. Employee retention is cheaper and easier than employee turnover. Employee appreciation goes a long way. 

    Create a company culture where employees are engaged and thrive and develop leaders who encourage employee communication and promote the company culture and values through example. When the employees succeed, the entire company succeeds. 

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