Workplace Bullying

workplace6Bullying occurs all around us and has so many faces that many times we fail to recognize it. It affects every single person involved.  Bullying is not necessarily the physical intimidation that we most often associate this word with. It comes in so many different forms that may be less evident but nevertheless are forms of bullying.  Let me give you an example which you may not realize as a form of bullying:

In a local industry, the woman’s department was severely short-staffed. However, the supervisor refused to accept this fact and was not going to hire and train a new employee. Instead, she favored imposing more work hours on the staff that were already over-burdened.  One of the workers, hired as a part-timer, was called almost every day to help fill in these labor shortfalls.  This woman had opted to work part-time as she only wanted to work a couple of shifts a week and had told this upfront when she was hired.

Despite her communicating this, the supervisor kept calling her almost every day. One day when she expressed her inability and refused the shifts the supervisor started making her feel uncomfortable and accusing her of not being a team player. The supervisor made her feel guilty and threatened her with unfavorable consequences if she didn’t do as told.

We can categorize this as an example of ‘harassment’ which is a form of workplace bullying.  When we recognize bullying when it happens, this is the first step in reducing and finding solutions to the problem.

Bullying is an unpleasant reality in a number of workplaces and gives unlimited authority to the perpetrators if it is allowed to go unchecked. This abuse of personal power has the potential to seriously damage the morale of the employee who is at the receiving end.  If not stopped in time, the bullies in an organization create an atmosphere of oppression and coercion that demoralizes other employees. If the bullying is allowed to continue, it not only affects the employees on a personal level by affecting their self-confidence; but also makes the employees lose respect for the company. Furthermore, statistics have suggested that both performance and productivity of the employees starts to go down, as well as illness and accidents increase, which ultimately leads to the organization’s bottom line being affected.  Another impact is that employees tend to leave the company, thereby increasing employee turnover and leading to an increased cost in hiring and training, and a decrease in overall workplace experience.

Let me give you a real life example (names have been changed to protect those involved):

     A man I knew became the target of workplace bullying. While John was not harmed physically, he was scarred emotionally. Every single day in his office, the tormentor would set up “practical jokes”, which everyone laughed at, but left poor John completely embarrassed. Being teased by his co-worker and being laughed at daily, crushed his spirit completely.

   Something snapped inside John when he couldn’t take the abuse any longer and he became depressed and suicidal.  Because of this long-term disability, John was unable to do the excellent job he had been doing previously.  The company not only lost a first-rate worker in John, but also numerous other employees as well who were targeted by the bully. Initially, the company saw their insurance premiums shoot up as a number of employees got sick, but eventually this led to a greater financial loss as a number of workers brought charges against the company.  By the time the management dealt with the bully, there had been considerable damage to the company, both in financial terms as well in terms of loss of reputation and prestige. The loss of customer and employee good will that the company experienced still continues to haunt the business many years later.

Companies (just as school boards) need to proactively create and put in writing a clear Anti Bullying Policy and ensure that it is followed both in letter and spirit. It is the management’s responsibility that all workers are assured that there will be no reprisal if they report abuse of a co-worker. If the management fails to do so, not only are they being complacent about this serious issue; they can be treated as an accomplice-by-neglect.

The employees must also be clear about the company’s stand on harassment in any form and should know that they have a responsibility to report bullying when they see it. Not only this; irrespective of their position within the organization, all employees must be clear of the consequences of violating the companies Anti Bullying Policy.

Bullying, or for that matter any form of harassment or discrimination, affects everyone and if allowed to continue unchecked, it tends to put power in the wrong hands giving the bully a free rein to continue harassing others. This demoralizes the workers and in some cases can even throw the entire corporate structure into disarray as the employees lose their respect for the organization. Their trust in the organization decays and everything including productivity and quality can go down.

Remember, the most important thing that you can do to prevent any form of bullying is “report the bullying!”  You must put into place a reporting process by which every single employee is encouraged to report bullying without any fear in doing so and is ensured of the fact that the management will address each and every grievance.

An effective bullying policy not only protects employees but also helps the company from being involved in costly lawsuits.  At the same time, such a policy, if put into action, increases the credibility of the management.   It also makes the employees feel as if they are part of a team and it is a known fact that when the workers have faith and trust in their management, their productivity improves, which is directly related to company profits. This, of course, is a win-win situation for everyone.