How to prevent workplace bullying in your company

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Workplace bullying can lower morale, reduce productivity, and cause good employees to quit. Even worse, it could get your company sued. Use these seven strategies to deal with workplace bullies.

Bullying at work is a widespread problem. According to an Institute for Bullying at Work study, 79.3 million workers are affected by workplace bullying. 30% of respondents said they were bullied, 19% said they witnessed it and 13% said they are currently being bullied.

Even worse, 65% of people said the person who bullied them was their boss, making it difficult to report the problem.

Bullying is not only a traumatic experience for the employee, it also means problems for your company. There is plenty of data showing that company culture has a direct effect on productivity. If your culture is one of a hostile work environment, your employees may be spending more time worrying about their mental and physical safety than doing their best work. And once the culture is broken, it takes a long time to solve the problem.

There is also the potential legal liability. If the bullying rises to a serious level and a company official knew about it and did nothing, it could expose the company to potential lawsuits.

How to deal with bullies at work

1. Create an anti-bullying policy

Another study from the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 62% of respondents said they do not have such policies in place in their workplace. Before you can hold someone accountable, there must be a policy in place, as federal and state laws generally do not mention workplace bullying unless it falls under the anti-harassment law. The policy should define bullying and indicate how employees should and should not behave. In addition, it must record reporting procedures and company actions.

RELATED: How to Create an Employee Handbook

2. Provide anti-bullying training

No one wants to go through such training, but by addressing the subject, you’ll get people up to speed and help protect yourself from potential lawsuits. And some older workers, used to the way things used to be, may need some education about the modern office environment. The Workplace Bullying Institute has resources available to help with training.

3. Encourage reporting of workplace bullies

Tell all your employees that you want to know if they are a victim or witness of bullying. No report is too small and if it turns out to be true, action will be taken quickly. Also let them know that all reports will remain anonymous and will be fully investigated.

RELATED: Verbal Abuse and Workplace Violence

4. Ensure no-nonsense policy enforcement

All policies, training, and warnings mean nothing if concrete action is not taken when bullying occurs. No matter how loved, high achiever, or important the person is, action must be taken, even if it means letting go of the person. Company culture and employee safety are always more important than an individual. If people report bullying and find that no action is taken, they will stop taking the risk.

5. Don’t call anyone a victim

While the word may be accurate, using the term may cause other employees to view the person unfavorably. Did they cause it themselves? “If they were better at their jobs, maybe they wouldn’t be treated like this,” and other comments can be made if the person is cast as a victim.

In general, you should not discuss incidents publicly. Handle them with the parties involved. You set the best example by being responsive rather than holding an employee meeting about it.

RELATED: How to Manage Employee Conflict in a Small Business

6. Put an end to rumours

Every company and organization has talkers and gossipers, but doing your best to encourage employees to talk to management instead of complaining to each other reinforces the positive company culture and makes bullies feel like outcasts. The better your culture, the less audience a bully has and the more likely people are to report the person.

7. Make sure you’re not the bully

If we are not honest, we cannot solve the problem. Maybe you’re the bully. Maybe what you find funny is actually hurting someone else. Or maybe the stress of being a business owner sometimes shows up as anger towards employees.

First, remember that whether you agree or not, we live in a culture that no longer tolerates the old-fashioned yelling, crude jokes, hazing, or humiliation of “the new guy.” You cannot selectively apply rules to certain employees and you cannot publicly rebuke people who make mistakes. Any of these can be bullying, and even if you are found innocent, settling a legal matter like this can be costly.

If you’re a new business owner and just starting to hire employees, make sure you know what you can and can’t do as a boss.

It boils down

Culture starts at the top. Your business becomes what you make it – good or bad. As an employer, your business will never prosper if you don’t care about the people who work for you first. Your company culture should be safe, inclusive and caring. Not only is that the right thing to do, but happy employees also work hard and more efficiently, which makes for a more successful company.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek advice from a licensed professional.

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