The word “bullying” usually summons thoughts of school-age kids behaving badly. But bullying does not stop with children. Unfortunately, while people get bigger, some never truly grow up, and they bring their childish antics with them when they enter the workplace.
As a human resources professional, I can tell you that bullying occurs in the workplace every day. An article published on Forbes.com states that as many as 96% of all Americans experience workplace bullying, and another article on ABC News states that 1 in 4 workers experience office bullying. Whether one or the other of those reports is completely accurate or the answer is somewhere in between, either way, that’s too many people being bullied.
Despite EEOC legislation aimed at curbing workplace bullying and harassment, few instances are reported to managers, and despite the fact that most companies have anti-harassment policies, few employees are aware of them – or choose to call the bully’s bluff. One recent exception – Julie Ann Horvath’s widely-reported departure from Silicon Valley darling GitHub – involved both sexism and harassment. Horvath took on the company first on Twitter and, after she left, in the press. The upshot: not only is bullying damaging to the victim, it cuts into productivity, has high costs, and may signal serious issues with workplace culture.
What can management do to ensure the workplace and digital space does not support a culture of bullying? Identify the office bullying styles and stop this behavior.
Cliques/Crews – Most companies have departments that hang out together just for the camaraderie, but these crews can develop into cliques that can make others feel like outsiders. It’s possible that, due to their sheer numbers, these cliques can control their immediate work environments. Watch out for cliques and crews who tend to bully new employees, which often results in new hires quitting, or worse.
Intimidators – Intimidators are aggressive. They make no secret that their goal is to render work a living hell for their victims. Using direct or indirect threats, social media, email, and pictures to harass their victims, they can be merciless. There’s a possibility they might even use physical force, but generally intimidators will bully from afar.
Threats – Sometimes a bully in the workplace wants to scare or even terrorize another employee, just through using their words. For instance, a bully might tell a co-worker, “I’m going to punch you in the face.” They might also use vague threats like, “Something is going to happen to you, just you wait.” This behavior has to be dealt with immediately and resolved, for the safety of everyone involved.
Nepotism/Favoritism – Over half of jobs are filled through relationships or friendships and usually that’s not a problem. But every once in a while, an employee is eager to tell anyone who will listen that they’re protected and they can do whatever they want. The “relation” might try to leverage their connection as power over other employees, and make them feel like there’s no one who’ll look out for them. This form of bullying often leads to more intimidation and harassment, which is frequently sexual in nature.
Megalomaniacs – These people have gigantic egos. And with huge egos come big problems. They tend to think that they can do whatever they want, and get away with anything. Megalomaniacs don’t consider consequences because they’re sure that they’re smarter than everyone else. These narcissistic power-seekers have to be brought back to reality, or they will apply any number of bullying tactics to get their way.
Pranksters/Jokers – There’s a difference between a harmless (victimless) prank and relentless hurtful bullying. For instance, using Super Glue to cement a co-worker’s gloves shut can be harmless and funny, but a prank goes too far when it harms someone, embarrasses them, or causes physical damage. At that point, it’s no longer pranking, it’s bullying.
Repeat Offenders – According to various reports, there are more than 68 million Americans with criminal records, so it’s quite likely that some of them work for you. When investigating instances of bullying, look at a person’s work history and criminal history – unfortunately, some people can’t be rehabilitated.
Cyber Bullies – Social media has changed the game for everyone, including HR professionals. Employees can and do post comments, pictures, threats, hateful and insensitive jokes and more about other employees. HR needs to maintain an awareness that threats, menacing, defamation of character, rumors, and lies can all be transmitted online, through email, or via text messages.
Menacing – People who menace others are often very careful about what they do and how they do it. When bullies harass their targets by staring them down or glaring at them, by walking past their workstations slowly, or by making people feel uncomfortable without physical contact, they’re deliberately keeping their distance. It’s very hard to amass evidence against people who practice menacing, but of course, their actions can be just as damaging as any other form of bullying.
Sabotage – Some employees will go to any lengths to get someone they don’t like labeled or terminated – they might even intentionally tank a project to achieve their nefarious goal. Saboteurs who orchestrate their deceitful plans by forcing other employees to join in are practicing one of the worst kinds of bullying.
Hiring employees is only the first step on the way to building a strong and engaged workforce. Employee retention is critical to a successful business, since you cannot achieve your goals without experienced and qualified staff. Retaining the best talent is a real challenge today, and one that requires a complex and careful approach.View Now