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How to Stop Workplace Bullying and Intimidation

How to Stop Workplace Bullying and Intimidation

No one ever said you had to be your employees’ best friend. Sometimes you have to call them out for lack of production, ask them to redo work that does not meet your standards, or even fire them. But when a strict management style crosses the line into what is basically workplace bullying, the entire organisation suffers.

It is not just managers; workplace bullies can be found in the executive suite all the way down to the reception desk. Effective managers cultivate workplaces that are free from intimidation, but it is important for everyone involved to learn how to stop workplace intimidation and bullying.

What is Workplace Bullying?

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines it as repeated abusive conduct against one or more individuals (referred to as “targets”) that causes stress, hurts morale, or results in other adverse effects. It can take many different forms, typically driven by the bully’s desire to control their target(s), including:

  • Workplace intimidation, humiliation, or threats;
  • Interference or sabotage of the target’s work; or
  • Verbal abuse.

An estimated 29 percent of Britons have been bullied at work, and 36 percent of those bullied leave their jobs because of it, according to 2015 research carried out by YouGov for the TUC. Of those who are bullied, 28 percent claim to have suffered adverse physical health effects from it, and 22 percent have had to take time off from work as a result of the bullying.

The Importance of Written Workplace Bullying Policies

A written policy will not necessarily be how to stop workplace intimidation and bullying, but it can serve as the basis for any corrective measures that may need to be taken when it does happen. A workplace intimidation policy should spell out how the company defines this behaviour, including examples, and what steps workers — and managers — can take to address instances of bullying. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provides a helpful template.

What is and is not workplace bullying? Bullying can constitute seemingly minor acts that, taken alone, do not explicitly violate workplace rules. For example, a manager who repeatedly ignores one employee or “forgets” to invite them to meetings may be acting as a bully. A well-written anti-bullying policy puts everyone “on notice” and can be revisited when addressing an accused bully.

Examples of workplace intimidation and bullying include the use of abusive language, insults, spreading rumours, making unreasonable criticisms, isolating people, belittling suggestions, and playing practical jokes. The context is what really matters, however, as these acts typically constitute a pattern or abusive behaviour.

How to Stop Workplace Intimidation and Bullying

Despite best intentions, including a written policy and active measures to cultivate a bully-free environment, there is no way to guarantee a harmonious workplace. So when workplace intimidation or bullying is suspected or reported, it is important for supervisors to take it seriously and act quickly (though carefully).

First, take measures to keep the target safe, perhaps by moving them to a location away from the alleged bully. Then, conduct a “check-up” of the workplace climate. While some employees may side with bullies as a form of protection, assessing everyone’s perspective — while not making it seem like an interrogation — can clue you into what is really going on.

If the facts indicate that the accused did indeed cross the line, then that individual should apologise to the target and face other potential consequences (up to and including termination). Depending on the severity of the bullying, it may be appropriate to provide the target with counselling, paid time off, or other support.

Supervisors should also always keep an eye on retribution after the fact. Just because employees may have reached a resolution does not mean that one (or both) are not harbouring resentments.

Want to Know How to Stop Workplace Bullying? Start With Your Hiring Process

Bullying and intimidation in the workplace is the enemy of teamwork and innovation and can sap motivation. If you are not careful, it can also expose your company to litigation. It is not always easy to spot bullying, but you do have an ally that can help you find employees who know how to work together. Start landing the right candidates today with a free job posting on Monster.