Prevention is better than a cure when it comes to workplace bullying

Workplace bullying is more prevalent than most would expect. It’s highly likely that you, or someone you know, has been the target of a hostile workmate. When this happens, it can be difficult for victims to know what to do and it can feel almost impossible to act for fear of retaliation. Most employees who are bullied by a coworker, or even worse a manager, often do not know how to proceed effectively.

So, how can companies give employees appropriate pathways to report and intervene in workplace bullying and create policies and processes to stop it in its tracks?

Prevention: Make it a priority

The most important action any workplace can take when it comes to bullying is prevention. When handled appropriately, it’s very likely that incidents of workplace bullying can be drastically reduced, if not eliminated entirely.

Some ways in which to prevent friction and/or hostility among and between employees include:

  • Providing a fair and consistent means of assessing and rewarding good work habits.
  • Encouraging friendships with appropriate boundaries between employees.
  • Creating an inclusive environment that makes all employee contributions welcome.
  • Ensuring that each employee is producing the work they are responsible for.
  • Sponsoring workplace activities that foster a relaxed atmosphere to help reduce stress and tension among employees.

Training: Arming employees with the right information

It’s imperative that all businesses, large and small, provide their employees with (at a minimum) some basic training and information about workplace bullying.

The topics that should be covered are:

  • What is workplace bullying?
  • What type of language can be considered inappropriate?
  • What type of comments and/or remarks can be taken as offensive or frightening?
  • What attitudes or actions can be considered as intimidating?
  • What forms can workplace bullying take? Including; gossiping, emails, exclusion etc.

Responses and policies

For employees to feel comfortable enough to step forward and alert a manager or supervisor to bullying, two very important things must be clear; a response will be forthcoming and policies are in place for the situation to be handled fairly and consistently.

Responding to workplace bullying allegations

All employees, supervisors and managers must have a menu of available options when responding to knowledge of bullying in the workplace:

  • Employees must know to whom bullying should be reported.
  • Employees must know in what form a bullying allegation should be made; i.e. email, verbally, confidentially etc.
  • Supervisors and managers must have a checklist of what to do for any and every report of bullying.
Policies for workplace bullying

Particular policies need to be in place for handling instances of workplace bullying. These policies should cover:

  • Taking the statement of the person being bullied.
  • Holding a confidential meeting with the person accused of workplace bullying, human resources and their immediate supervisor.
  • Holding an impartial investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident(s).
  • Providing an opportunity for the employees to meet and speak in a safe environment.
  • Using an impartial mediator to help settle the differences.
  • Exploring better ways for the persons involved to communicate with one another.
  • Providing a sequence of initial warning, formal warning and eventual termination based upon ongoing behaviour.

It’s important to remember the following; employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment for all employees, employers will always be responsible for taking reasonable steps and actions to keep their work environment physically, mentally and emotionally safe for all employees, and an employer who is cognisant of workplace behaviour is more able to immediately and effectively intervene in an instance of workplace bullying.

By keeping these responsibilities in mind, companies can remain one step ahead on bullying in the workplace, shutting it down quickly and eventually preventing it from occurring at all.