When you think of health and safety at work, what probably crosses your mind is the use of machinery, ergonomics, and adequate breaks. But a more prevalent and dangerous beast is increasingly lurking in workplaces: the bully.
If you’ve got one in your team, it’s unlikely you know about it because to your face they’re charming and delightful, but behind your back they torment and torture, leaving co-workers affronted and afraid.
Workplace bullying is a repeated series of actions towards one or more employees that’s sometimes aggressive, at other times manipulative, but always causes distress and anxiety.
One particular study found that over 70 percent of employees admit to having been bullied at some stage in the past. The problem is widespread and it’s possible that your employees are next.
Often the bullying is just verbal. From insidious insults to humiliating sarcasm, and from abusive language to public put-downs, the words are targeted with the intention to hurt.
Occasionally, the bullying becomes more sinister where the bully will play mind-games and intimidation to wrest control within the team. What causes the most concern is that the majority of victims either don’t do anything about it or they just find a job someplace else, leaving the bully to continue the damage.
The impact on the business is huge. Increased absenteeism is a certainty as victims dread the thought of going to work where they’ll face the bully. The effect it has on their health reduces their productivity, saps their energy, alters their mood, and costs businesses a lot of money.
In fact, one study by Work Cover in the ACT found that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6 billion and $13 billion a year.
Pyscholigst Keryl Egan has dentified three types of bullies in the workplace.
The first are the accidental bullies, who respond demandingly and in a blunt manner because they’re panicked, rushed, or stressed out.
The second are the narcissistic bullies, who crave power and will do anything to get it no matter how destructive it is, and have little care for who gets burnt in the process.
And the third are the serial bullies, who are almost impossible to cure because they’re psychotic sociopaths with a relentless and fearless appetite to systemically deceive and destroy.
There are also specific factors that might make your business more conducive to workplace bullying. Sudden changes and instability, undefined work structures and procedures, and insufficient levels of communication and direction, are all a fertile breeding ground for a bully to emerge. To eliminate bullying in your workplace, consider the following steps:
1.Openly state that your company will not condone bullying of any kind.
2.Have an anti-bullying policy written down as part of your employee handbook.
3.Prohibit actions like tantrums, screaming, and threats.
4. Make it easy for employees to complain if they’re the victim of a bully.
5. Frequently consult employees to see how they’re feeling about the workplace.
6. Look out for body language clues that might indicate an employee is a victim.
7. Be cognisant of a spike in absenteeism from an employee who’s rarely sick.
8. If you spot a bully, take action immediately. Don’t tolerate it even for a second.
9. When giving a bully feedback, focus on their behaviour, not their personality.
10. Make sure the bully understands the consequences if their behaviour continues.
11. Document all conversations, and if it doesn’t stop, consider serious penalties.
12. Remember to be the role model of how you’d like your employees to act.
Moving a bully from one team to another is not a solution, because the bully will just find a new victim in the new surroundings. Instead, provide coaching, offer counselling, issue written warnings, and eventually if there’s no improvement, terminate the bully’s employment before other employee resignations take hold.
Keep in mind that workplace bullies are usually your best performers. They’re clever, successful, and highly productive, so this might make you reluctant to deal with their menacing ways.
But deal with it you must, or else it’ll have a larger financial impact on your business down the track.
It’s important to note that as an employer, you have a legal duty of care to protect your staff from hazards in the workplace. One particular hazard that needs to be managed is the risk of staff suffering from an unsupervised workplace bully.
As Edmund Burke famously said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
Workplace bullying is a problem that can no longer be ignored.