how to stop bullying at work

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Harvey. Matt. Mario. It seems like every day another Hollywood A-lister has been fired for inappropriate behavior, sexual harassment, and misuse of power. But not all bad behavior is sexual in nature, and it’s not just Hollywood – Uber founder, Travis Kalanick, was forced to resign when his bullying behavior came to light, while many other business leaders are infamous for their bullying tactics.

Most of us assume we outgrow this behavior after junior high, or at least high school. Unfortunately, it seems we don’t.

Research finds 75% of employees have been affected by workplace bullying. While we may not be calling each other names or getting into fistfights in the hallways, employees do report behavior from leaders or peers that involves “threatening, humiliation, intimidation, or work interference (sabotage).”

How can we all combat bullying behavior in the workplace? In addition to dealing with the bullies directly, taking steps to building a culture that repels bullying can prevent it from happening in the first place.

To combat workplace bullying:

  • Take away the power. In many cases, employees threaten or humiliate others because they are in a position of power and know they can get away with that type of behavior. This is more common in command and control environments. By embracing a more egalitarian workplace that ensures every employee has a voice, feels involved in important decisions, and is listened to and respected, you remove the bully’s power.
  • Focus on the positive. Bullying tends to happen more frequently in toxic work environments. When people are negative, where there is lots of change and uncertainty, where leadership is poor or non-existent, or where the rumor mill is stronger than formal communication, bullies can take advantage of the unstable environment and play on people’s fears. Focus on the positives rather than the negatives in your organization, and you can create a less hospitable environment for bullies.
  • Appreciate differences. Like schoolyard bullying, workplace bullying can happen when someone is unique or different. They may come from a different background, share contrary opinions, or disagree with a decision. Instead of being defensive when someone has a different viewpoint, appreciate them. Say thanks when someone brings up a good point, even if it’s different from yours, when a newbie questions what you’ve always been doing, when someone suggests doing something differently. Celebrate diversity in your workplace and bullies won’t find traction for their poisonous thoughts.
  • Build it into your culture. A strong, zero tolerance for bullying should be the foundation. Then build positive interactions, differing opinions, and an employee-centric perspective into your culture. Employees will start learning what is acceptable behavior from each other, and bullies will naturally want to work somewhere else.
  • Have a zero-tolerance policy. Obviously, any claims of bullying need to be investigated for accuracy and truth. But when you find a bully, remove them. You are running a business. Not a preschool. Very few bullies are worth multiple reprimands, repeat training, and unsuccessful reformation attempts. Let verified bullies go for the good of the team. The cause-and-effect reality of your action may actually prove valuable for the bully as well. And finally, don’t forget to honor victims privately as the heroes they are and let them know their willingness to take a stand is appreciated.

It’s up to everyone at your organization to ensure workplace bullying doesn’t happen. By building anti-bullying tactics into your culture, your people can instead focus on doing their best at work and you can avoid some of the challenges that have been making recent headlines.

By christina chau
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