Combat Workplace Bullying

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What do we mean by workplace bullying? 

Workplace bullying is a persistent pattern of behaviour from one member of an organisation to another which causes physical or emotional harm.  While it is possible to draw a distinction bullying is very similar in nature to harassment.  Research by the Workplace Bullying Institute, found the following 10 tactics were the most common (and often used in combination);  

  • Falsely accused someone of “errors” not actually made (71%) 
  • Stared, glared, was nonverbally intimidating and was clearly showing hostility (68%) 
  • Unjustly discounted the person’s thoughts or feelings in meetings (64%) 
  • Used the “silent treatment” to separate from others (64%) 
  • Exhibited presumably uncontrollable mood swings in front of the group (61%) 
  • Invented rules that they themselves did not follow (61%) 
  • Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality work (discrediting) (58%) 
  • Harshly and constantly criticized, having a different standard for the target (57%) 
  • Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumours or gossip about the person (56%) 
  • Encouraged people to turn against the person being tormented (55%) 

Workplace bullying remains commonplace, most of us will have witnessed or been the victim of bullying at some point in our career.  Bullying usually has the following characteristics; 

  • Repetitive 
  • Enduring 
  • Escalates 
  • Difficult to defend against 
  • Intentional 

Bullying can be subtle, pernicious, difficult to identify and even harder to prove.  It is also however extremely damaging to morale and productivity. 

How do I spot the signs of workplace bullying? 

It is often difficult to definitively characterise bullying due to its long term low level nature.  An individual incident may appear trivial, but seen in the context of previous incidents can be very serious and cause significant harm.  Perpetrators often stay very close to the edge of acceptable behaviour so that no one incident can realistically result in disciplinary action. 

When an employee has performance related issues such as poor motivation, low productivity, high absenteeism these may be symptoms of bullying.  It is worth therefore exploring this as a possible underlying cause of their performance issues.  The same applies to teams, where a team is underperforming this may well be caused by the presence of a bully. 

How do I combat workplace bullying? 

Pay attention to seemingly low level grievances – Incidents which may present as low level inter-personal differences may be a single incident in an extended series of bullying behaviour from one employee or group to another. 

Investigate effectively – Individual incidents of bullying are typically not serious enough to justify disciplinary action.  It is therefore important to establish the true extent of the behaviour and consider individual incidents in the context of others.   

Take action – Once identified your response should depend on the seriousness, extent and motive of the bullying behaviour; 

If the behaviour or the impact is deemed particularly serious then appropriate disciplinary action should be considered.   

If you believe that the behaviour was either accidental or misguided then it may be appropriate to coach that individual into more a productive management style or recommend counselling in an attempt to help them better control their emotions in the workplace. 

Workplace bullying causes great individual and organisational harm and should not be ignored or tolerated.  The consequences of doing so can be very damaging to corporate culture and performance. 

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