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How to Stop Workplace Bullying? A Deep Dive

By Julian Lewis August 31, 2023

How to Stop Workplace Bullying? A Deep Dive

Introduction: Setting the Context

Workplace bullying is not just a human resources buzzword—it's a real, pervasive issue that impacts the lives, well-being, and productivity of employees across various industries. Sadly, workplace bullying often goes unreported, both due to a lack of awareness and the stigma associated with being a "victim." A study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 19% of Americans have experienced abusive conduct at work, affecting both their mental health and occupational health. When bullying goes unchecked, it also undermines workplace health as a whole, contributing to lost productivity, increased absenteeism, and even workplace violence.

Why Addressing Workplace Bullying is Essential

Let's set aside the jargon and speak plainly: if we don't address bullying in the workplace, we're not just neglecting policy; we're failing our co-workers. Bullying harms everyone involved, from the targets and witnesses to the entire organizational culture. Bullying can manifest in various forms, from verbal abuse and personal attacks to more subtle behaviors like setting impossible deadlines or constantly reminding someone of their mistakes. But whatever form it takes, such behavior can lead to long-term negative effects like increased stress, high blood pressure, and other serious health issues.

What This Blog Post Will Cover

This comprehensive guide aims to do more than just define workplace bullying. It seeks to educate on how to identify signs, address incidents, and create a safer work environment. We'll also delve into mental health support services and the importance of involving mental health professionals in solving this issue. From preventive measures to the legal aspects of filing a formal complaint, we'll provide you with multiple tactics and specific examples to combat bullying effectively. We'll include insights from the Workplace Bullying Institute, explore the role of occupational health, and discuss how each one of us can play a significant role in preventing bullying.

Whether you are experiencing workplace bullying yourself, witness to such conduct, or part of upper management striving to establish a more inclusive workplace, this deep dive is for you.

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Defining the Problem: What is Workplace Bullying?

Before we jump into solutions, it's crucial to understand what we're dealing with. Workplace bullying is far from straightforward; it is a multi-faceted issue that often escapes easy definition. However, broadly speaking, workplace bullying is the targeted, recurring mistreatment of one or more persons by another in the work environment. This form of abusive conduct can have detrimental impacts on victims, witnesses, and even the organization as a whole.

A Deep Dive into the Definition of Workplace Bullying

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is defined as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators in the form of verbal abuse, offensive conduct/behaviors, and work interference." While we could discuss the complexities for days, a simpler version might describe it as behavior that leaves employees feeling harassed, threatened, humiliated, or severely stressed.

Workplace bullying is not just about the occasional snide remark or isolated incidents of unkindness. It's a pervasive, enduring pattern of behavior that can severely harm the victim's mental and physical health. Unlike other forms of workplace misconduct, like sexual harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, bullying often doesn't fall into a "protected class," making it more challenging to address legally.

Understanding the Scope of Workplace Bullying

Examples and Scenarios

Let's humanize the issue a bit with some real-world examples:

  1. Verbal Abuse: A supervisor constantly belittles an employee in meetings, attacking their ideas and making personal attacks that go beyond professional criticism.
  2. Hostile Work Environment: A group of co-workers ostracizes a new team member, refusing to include them in lunches, conversations, or project collaborations.
  3. Impossible Deadlines: An employee is constantly set up to fail with unrealistic goals and deadlines by their manager, impacting their performance reviews negatively.
  4. Manipulative Behavior: A team leader takes credit for a junior employee's ideas and excludes them from meetings, denying them professional growth opportunities.
  5. Organizational Culture: In a "dog-eat-dog" competitive atmosphere, bullying behaviors are ignored or even encouraged, creating a toxic work environment that benefits no one.
  6. Physical Intimidation: Although rarer, instances where an employee is physically threatened or experiences workplace violence, usually as an escalation of other forms of bullying.

Understanding the range and complexity of workplace bullying helps us frame the discussion as we move forward into solutions. Identifying what constitutes bullying behavior in the workplace is the first critical step in combating it effectively. Armed with this understanding, we can strive to create a safer, more respectful work environment for everyone involved.

The Scope of Workplace Bullying: It's More Common Than You Think

Just how prevalent is workplace bullying? While the moral imperative to combat such behavior should be reason enough to pay attention, the sheer scope of the issue might surprise you. Far from a fringe issue, workplace bullying is a widespread problem that impacts not only the emotional and physical health of employees but also the bottom line of companies.

Latest Statistics

According to a study by the Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly 20% of U.S. workers experience workplace bullying. If you extrapolate those numbers, it's not a stretch to say millions of people are suffering. But it's not just the bullied who are affected. Witnesses, or "bystanders," also experience increased stress and are more likely to leave their job compared to those who have not witnessed bullying incidents.

Workplace bullying doesn't just wreak havoc on the well-being of employees; it's also costly for organizations. Lost productivity, increased absenteeism, and high turnover rates are some of the negative effects on a company's bottom line. Additionally, dealing with formal complaints involves time, effort, and potential legal fees.

Identifying Workplace Bullies

Real-Life Stories

To further illustrate the gravity of this issue, consider these real-life stories:

  1. Mental Toll: Emily, a talented graphic designer, found herself the target of her manager's incessant belittlement and public humiliation. Despite her accomplishments, her mental health deteriorated, and she ended up resigning.
  2. Health Consequences: Marcus worked in a high-paced tech company. His supervisor often used manipulative tactics to get him to work extra hours without pay. Eventually, Marcus developed high blood pressure and other physical symptoms of stress.
  3. Impact on Company Culture: Sarah, a mid-level manager, experienced workplace bullying not just from her supervisors but also from her subordinates. The bullying was so ingrained in the organizational culture that it became "the norm." Over time, several key employees left the company, citing the hostile work environment as their reason.
  4. Legal Ramifications: In a well-publicized case, a major corporation faced a class-action lawsuit due to rampant workplace bullying, which ultimately led to significant financial losses and reputational damage.

Understanding Bullying Behavior: The Psychology Behind It

When we talk about workplace bullying, the focus often leans towards the effects on victims and the negative repercussions for an organization. However, understanding the psychology behind bullying behavior is a crucial step in creating a safe workplace and addressing the problem effectively.

Psychological Mechanisms

Contrary to the stereotype that workplace bullies are simply "bad people," there are often complex psychological mechanisms at play. For instance, power imbalance plays a significant role. A workplace bully might be motivated by the desire to control others or compensate for their own insecurities. Mental health professionals often point out that bullying behaviors can stem from a range of mental health issues, from narcissism to more severe personality disorders.

Another psychological factor to consider is the work environment itself. Organizational culture and management styles can either discourage bullying or inadvertently foster such behavior. In some cases, bullies believe they are furthering the goals of the organization by setting impossible deadlines or exerting undue pressure, thus rationalizing their abusive conduct.

Types of Bullies and Their Traits

There are several archetypes of workplace bullies, each with their own distinct characteristics:

  1. The Screamer: This individual uses verbal abuse and emotional outbursts to intimidate employees. They may resort to personal attacks, making the work environment hostile for their targets.
  2. The Gatekeeper: Known for controlling resources and opportunities, this type of bully uses their position to manipulate work responsibilities, usually to the detriment of specific employees.
  3. The Critic: Excessively fault-finding, this person aims to diminish others' contributions and talents. Such behavior often leads to increased stress and loss of self-esteem among co-workers.
  4. The Puppet Master: This person operates behind the scenes, sabotaging others' reputations and work. They often spread rumors and manipulate situations to their advantage.
  5. The Subtle Manipulator: Their bullying behavior may be less apparent but no less harmful. They could employ tactics like exclusion, spreading misinformation, or giving backhanded compliments that can erode the mental health and well-being of employees over time.

Understanding these types of bullies can help organizations and mental health professionals develop effective strategies for addressing bullying. Whether it's through employee training programs, revising the employee handbook, or providing support services, tackling the psychological mechanisms and traits that contribute to bullying behavior is the first step in the right direction.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the devastating impacts of experiencing workplace bullying and outline practical steps for victims and organizations to take. Stay tuned.

Strategies and Tips to Deal With Bullying for Employees

The Role of Occupational Health in Identifying Bullying

When we think of occupational health, we often think of physical well-being in the workplace—ergonomics, workplace accidents, and exposure to harmful substances. But what about the more insidious threats that lurk in the cubicles and corridors? Yes, we're talking about workplace bullying, a pervasive issue that not only affects mental health but also has a lasting impact on occupational health.

Indicators and Signs

Recognizing workplace bullying is the first step towards intervention, and it's an area where occupational health professionals can play a vital role. Many indicators might seem like usual workplace stress at first glance but could be the telltale signs of bullying. These include:

  • Increased Absenteeism: A rise in sick leave or unexplained absences could indicate a hostile work environment.
  • High Blood Pressure and Other Physical Symptoms: Chronic stress due to bullying can lead to health problems that are easily measurable.
  • Negative Effects on Team Dynamics: Is there a notable lack of collaboration or increased tension among employees? It might be time to investigate further.
  • Reported Incidents: Formal complaints or even casual mentions of verbal abuse, emotional abuse, or other forms of mistreatment should not be ignored.

Impact on Occupational Health

The consequences of workplace bullying ripple through an organization, affecting not just the targeted individuals but the overall occupational health of the company. Here's how:

  1. Lost Productivity: The time and energy spent on dealing with bullying situations mean less focus on constructive work.
  2. Psychological Consequences: The mental health toll on bullying targets is significant, often requiring the intervention of a mental health professional.
  3. Employee Turnover: High rates of staff quitting their jobs can mean expensive recruitment and training processes for the company.
  4. Legal Consequences: Ignoring signs of bullying can lead to formal complaints and legal actions, costing the company in terms of both money and reputation.

Occupational health professionals have a significant role in identifying, managing, and preventing workplace bullying. Through monitoring indicators and implementing preventive measures, they can help create a work environment that is not only physically safe but emotionally and psychologically secure as well.

Insights from the Workplace Bullying Institute: Research and Recommendations

When it comes to researching workplace bullying, few organizations are as dedicated and thorough as the Workplace Bullying Institute. Their studies provide invaluable insights that shed light on the complexities of bullying behaviors in the professional setting. In this section, we will delve into some of the Institute's key findings and recommendations that can guide us in addressing and discouraging bullying at work.

Key Findings from the Institute

The Workplace Bullying Institute has been instrumental in capturing data that helps us understand the scale and impact of bullying incidents. Some of their essential findings include:

  • Prevalence: Their research reveals that nearly one in five Americans has experienced workplace bullying, emphasizing that this issue is more common than most people think.
  • Workplace Health: According to the Institute, workplace bullying significantly deteriorates the work environment, leading to lost productivity and increased stress among employees.
  • Power Imbalance: Often, bullying stems from or results in a severe power imbalance, making it not just a personal issue but also an organizational challenge.

Recommendations for Dealing with Bullying

Based on the Institute's research, here are some actionable recommendations:

  1. Employee Handbook and Established Rules: Organizations should outline clear policies against bullying in the workplace, making it a part of their employee handbook.
  2. Train Supervisors: Managers should be trained on how to handle bullying situations effectively and how to create an environment that discourages such behavior.
  3. Support Services: Offer access to a mental health professional for those experiencing workplace bullying. This step is crucial for the well-being of the affected individuals.
  4. Formal Complaint Channels: Provide clear procedures for lodging formal complaints about bullying, ensuring confidentiality and protection against retaliation for the complainant.

Whether you're upper management, HR, or an employee, these insights and recommendations offer a comprehensive guide to making the workplace a safer, more inclusive space for everyone. The battle against workplace bullying is collective, and with the research from the Workplace Bullying Institute, we are better equipped to fight it.

Dealing With the Effects of Bullying on Mental Health

How a Mental Health Professional Can Help

Are you or someone you know struggling with the consequences of workplace bullying? While addressing bullying at its source is vital for creating a safer work environment, there's another indispensable avenue of support: consulting a mental health professional. When experiencing workplace bullying, mental health often takes a considerable hit, leading to emotional and even physical symptoms such as increased stress and high blood pressure. But the road to recovery may not be as elusive as it seems.

Importance of Consulting a Mental Health Professional

A mental health professional plays a significant role in the recovery process for individuals who are bullying targets. They offer a confidential space to discuss specific examples of bullying incidents, whether it's verbal abuse, impossible deadlines set by workplace bullies, or other forms of abusive conduct. This kind of professional support becomes especially important when organizational culture fails to prevent bullying or when you find yourself in a hostile work environment. Their therapeutic approach can provide coping mechanisms and empower you to make formal complaints if needed.

Types of Support Services Available

Not all support services are the same. A range of specialized options are available to those experiencing workplace bullying, including:

  1. Counseling: One-on-one sessions to discuss the emotional abuse and work on coping strategies.
  2. Group Therapy: Engaging with other individuals who have also been bullied, sharing experiences, and learning from each other.
  3. Occupational Health Services: These can often work in tandem with a mental health professional to address both mental and physical health issues stemming from workplace bullying.
  4. Legal Advice: Some mental health professionals work closely with legal advisors who can guide you through the process of making threats or abusive behavior stop in the workplace.

Consulting a mental health professional can be a stepping stone towards a more comprehensive approach to tackle workplace bullying, contributing not only to individual well-being but also to a healthier, more inclusive work environment for all employees. This is not just about you; it's about changing the landscape of workplace health and taking a stand against bullying in all its various forms.

Legal Aspects: What Does the Law Say?

Are you trapped in a cycle of workplace bullying, with seemingly no way out? You might be pondering, "Is there a law against this? Can I file a formal complaint?" The truth is, the law does have a say in your predicament, and you could have more protections than you realize. While some workplace environments may lack proactive measures to discourage bullying, the legal landscape often provides mechanisms to report incidents and seek redress.

Legal Definitions and Protections

Workplace bullying often overlaps with other forms of harassment such as sexual harassment, which may fall under legally protected classes based on gender identity, national origin, and sexual orientation. The legal definitions can vary by jurisdiction but generally include unwanted, repeated, and severe behaviors that create a hostile work environment. Different states and countries may have established rules and employee handbook guidelines to tackle this issue, and some even categorize it as workplace violence.

  1. Protected Class: Understand if your case involves discrimination against a protected class, which adds another layer of legal protection.
  2. Federal and State Laws: Different laws offer different levels of protection against workplace bullying. Always check both federal and your state's guidelines.
  3. Employer's Policy: Often, your first step is to consult your employee handbook to see what your organizational culture officially says about such behavior.

Filing a Formal Complaint

If you are experiencing workplace bullying, your first course of action should often be to file a formal complaint with your employer. Here's a quick guide on how to go about it:

  1. Document in Detail: The more specific examples you can provide, the stronger your case will be.
  2. Consult HR: They are trained to handle these situations and can guide you through your organization's specific process.
  3. Legal Assistance: In many cases, you may want to consult a legal advisor to understand your rights and responsibilities better.

Understanding the legal aspects of workplace bullying is crucial for both victims and employers. Not only does it pave the way for redress, but it also encourages a safer, more respectful work environment for all employees. Remember, knowing the law empowers you to take effective action against bullying, so don't underestimate this crucial resource.

Preventative Measures: How to Create a Safe Workplace

Do you dread walking into your workplace, worrying about the emotional or even physical toll the day might take? What if you could flip the script, transforming that environment into a sanctuary of respect, cooperation, and positive productivity? A safe workplace isn't just a utopian ideal—it's a practical goal that any organization can strive for. Let's dive into actionable strategies and the undeniable importance of an employee handbook in preventing bullying and crafting a safe workplace.

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Strategies and Guidelines to Discourage Bullying

It's time to move from reactive problem-solving to proactive prevention. Here are some recommended strategies to help discourage bullying in your work environment:

  1. Train Supervisors: Regular training sessions can equip supervisors with the necessary tools to identify and address bullying behaviors before they escalate.
  2. Establish Clear Policies: Clearly state what constitutes bullying and harassment in your workplace and outline the consequences.
  3. Promote Open Dialogue: Encourage employees to speak freely about bullying incidents without fear of reprisal. This fosters a culture where such behavior is less likely to be tolerated.
  4. Implement Reporting Mechanisms: Ensure that there are multiple tactics for reporting bullying, including anonymous options, to encourage more employees to report incidents.
  5. Regular Audits: Periodic assessments by occupational health professionals can identify risk factors and help in early intervention.

By adopting these preventative measures, you're not just checking off a compliance box—you're actively contributing to the mental and physical health of your co-workers. The goal is to significantly lower the occurrence of workplace bullying, thereby affecting workplace health for the better.

The Indispensable Employee Handbook

Think of your employee handbook as the constitution of your organizational culture. This invaluable resource should contain as much detail as possible about what is considered unacceptable behavior, including specific examples of bullying, verbal abuse, and other forms of harassment.

  1. Legal Protection: A well-crafted handbook provides legal safeguards for both employees and employers.
  2. Standardized Response: It offers a guideline for responding to various forms of bullying, ensuring that each incident is handled consistently.
  3. Cultural Blueprint: The handbook sets the tone for what is considered a respectful and safe workplace.

The journey toward a safe workplace is a collective responsibility. Whether you're upper management, a new hire, or somewhere in between, you have a role to play. So, let's embark on this transformative journey together, fortified with knowledge and guided by compassion.

What to Do If Internal Channels Do Not Take Action

You've mustered the courage to report bullying to your HR department, only to face a disheartening lack of action. The situation remains unchanged, leaving you frustrated and questioning your options. What can you do when the very institution designed to protect you seems unresponsive? When internal channels fail to resolve workplace bullying, you are not out of options. This section delves into practical strategies you can employ to protect yourself and bring about change.

Strategies for Dealing with Workplace Bullying When HR Won't Take Action

When you're experiencing workplace bullying and HR turns a blind eye, it's time to take matters into your own hands. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Document the Abuse: Maintain a detailed log of bullying incidents, including dates, times, and the individuals involved. This will provide you with valuable evidence should you choose to escalate the issue further.
  2. Consult Outside Legal Counsel: A legal professional can offer guidance on how to file a formal complaint externally, giving you a better understanding of your rights and possible courses of action.
  3. Speak to Co-workers: Without jeopardizing their safety or yours, discreetly speak to co-workers who may have witnessed the bullying. Their testimonies can lend weight to your case.
  4. Reach Out to Upper Management: If HR fails to act, taking your concerns to upper management might yield results. Ensure you present your case in as much detail as possible, backed by the evidence you’ve collected.
  5. External Reporting: Some jurisdictions have established rules and hotlines to report workplace bullying. Research these options and, if appropriate, make use of them.
  6. Utilize Other Resources: Contact external support services or even occupational health professionals for advice and possible interventions.
  7. Seek Employment Elsewhere: If all else fails and your work environment remains hostile, consider changing jobs for the sake of your well-being.

Each of these steps involves its own challenges and risks, but they also provide avenues for justice and peace of mind when internal mechanisms prove ineffective.

Remember, you don't have to fight workplace bullying alone. If your HR department isn't responsive, these alternative routes can empower you to take control of your work environment and regain your sense of dignity and safety.

Concluding Thoughts: The Path Forward

In today's modern work environment, addressing bullying is not just a moral obligation but a critical element for organizational success. Ignoring the issue can have dire consequences, from decreased productivity and increased absenteeism to severe impacts on both physical and mental health.

Summary of Key Takeaways

We've extensively explored the various dimensions of workplace bullying, diving deep into its definition, the psychology behind bullying behavior, and the devastating impact it can have on occupational health. We've also examined valuable insights from the Workplace Bullying Institute, legal considerations, and how a mental health professional can provide indispensable support services. Preventative measures, including the importance of an employee handbook, were outlined to foster a safe workplace. Finally, we discussed what steps can be taken if internal channels fail to act.

Encouraging a Healthier Work Environment

At the core of the issue is the human factor. Every employee deserves to work in a respectful, inclusive environment. Organizations need to train supervisors, embrace diversity in gender identity and sexual orientation, and cultivate an organizational culture that openly discourages bullying and other forms of harassment. Reporting mechanisms should be in place, and employees should feel safe enough to report incidents without fearing repercussions.

Ultimately, eliminating workplace bullying is a collective effort. Whether you're in upper management, a middle manager, a co-worker, or someone who is experiencing workplace bullying, everyone has a role to play in creating a healthier, more productive work environment. Change begins with awareness, and awareness begins with each one of us. Let's not just stand against bullying—let's work together to eradicate it.

If you're interested in building a better business and want to learn more about creating a positive workplace culture, check out our related blog post on how to identify and correct negative workplace culture.

Read more about: Culture, Well-being

About Julian Lewis

Julian Lewis is a driven and accomplished professional with a passion for driving positive change in the business world. He is the co-founder and COO at Zella Life.

His own experience as a professional of color in a Fortune 500 company led him to discover the limitations for advancement that many professionals like himself face. Determined to reach his full potential, Julian became an established business coach and entrepreneur, committed to supporting others in their pursuit of personal and professional growth.

Today, Julian is a recognized corporate trainer, coach, and leader, known for his ability to leverage real-life experiences and evidence-based methodologies to affect positive change within individuals and organizations. As the leader of Zella Life's coaching division, he is dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses to achieve their full potential.