Although this may seem very basic, one of the first things is to ensure that there is a policy or guidelines in place that identifies the steps to take if one is being bullied and equally important, identifies the consequences of bullying (for the offender).
Once the policy or guidelines are in place, people need to be trained to recognize bullying in all its forms.
There are many forms of bullying, it’s not just the blatant acts but also the smaller things, like circulating rumors, failing to include people in emails, excluding people, ignoring people’s input or not inviting it. These behaviours all lead to the same sense of frustration, and loss of self-esteem as outright bullying.
For HR to communicate or to enact policies or guidelines, they need to have power within the organization, and this power needs to be localized in larger organizations because situations vary in different geographic regions.
It is possible to think, when there are a number of different cultures working together, that bullying is just the way people in some cultures treat each other, but we all deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of our culture, so this is not a reason to ignore behaviour that puts others at risk, physically or emotionally.
A lack of communication can lead employees to feel powerless, changes in working conditions, additional tasks and increased performance expectations need to be communicated, even bad news is better than no news or rumors.
HR needs to open the discussion and make it safe for people to talk about their experiences, because bullying affects families, not just the individual involved. People who are being bullied live with it 24 hours a day – it spills into the rest of their lives.
One tactic HR can use is to show the other managers the increase in stress and sick leave that results from the poor morale that develops when bullying is not dealt with.
It is important for employees that might be inclined to bully to realize that the consequences are real, that is, a disciplinary approach will be followed.
Often, people are unaware of the impact of their behaviour on others, Laura Crawshaw, founder of the Executive Insight Development Group, describes what she calls, abrasive behavior – shouting, swearing, threatening, and publicly demeaning others. She claims that those who exhibit this behaviour can be coached. They are unaware of their destructive impact on others (cited in Masi, 2012)
Crawshaw’s theory was backed up by an experience one of the women I interviewed, shared. She said she was ready to quit her job so she went to the General Manager and requested that he speak to her boss, who was constantly yelling at her and belittling her in front of her colleagues. She was suffering the stress and anxiety that results from this treatment. Her GM insisted that she confront her boss, and finally, after seeing her procrastinate for weeks, gave her a 10 minute deadline. She stretched the deadline to the end of the day, when she approached her boss and asked if she could talk to her. She asked if there was something wrong with her performance and when her boss said her performance was fine, she asked why she was treating her so poorly. Her boss began to cry, as Crawshaw indicated, this woman had no idea the impact she was having. Her boss then asked for examples of her behaviour and asked that the employee let her know the moment she began to behave like this.
This confrontation worked and it was the beginning of a productive relationship, but it is a lot to ask of any employee who is being bullied. The woman I interviewed said that confronting her boss made her much stronger and she has never allowed a situation like this to develop again.
Perhaps this is a lesson to take on board, employees need to be coached in how to react to bad behaviour and they need to know that the sooner they take action, the better. Talking about the situation doesn’t change it, only dealing with it does. A hard task, but even if one fails, the sense of power that comes from standing up for oneself can be amazing.
A bully free workplace is the real goal of any communication about bullying. In a bully free workplace, morale increases al0ng with employee’s happiness, energy and health. Stress and illness decrease and employees have a sense that there is a resolution to any issues that arise. They feel informed and powerful.
Masi, D. (2012) a Review of Tehrani, N. (Ed.). (2012). Workplace
Bullying: Symptoms and Solutions in theJournal of Workplace Behavioral Health (2012)
Thanks to Fatima Elmi for her sharing her insights on this topic.