Workplace bullying comes in many different forms. When most people think of bullying they think of the more overt types where it’s easy to identify such as someone being screamed at or physically assaulted. However, bullying can include but is not limited to:
- Misgendering someone
- Blocking a promotion or advancement
- Setting unrealistic and impossible expectations in an effort to set them up for failure
- Spreading harmful rumors
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, bullying has extended to the remote space through video meetings, Slack messages, and email. According to a Workplace Bullying Institute report, 79.3 million U.S. workers have been affected by workplace bullying. The report also revealed that 65% of workplace bullies are bosses. What’s more is that targets have a 67% chance of losing their job from either being pushed out or feeling as if they have no other choice but to resign.
Here are three harmful things companies do that empower workplace bullies.
Prioritizing Company Outcomes Over Problems
Bullying is detrimental to the overall health and success of an organization. It prevents the company from achieving its full potential due to decreased engagement, productivity and performance, increased turnover, and an eroded reputation. The unfortunately reality is if the bully is a high-performing employee, companies are more inclined to overlook their behaviors in favor of their results. Heather Welch, resource manager at Ukulele Tabs, explained, “if the alleged bully performs exceptionally at work, then the company does almost nothing to prevent it. Rather, they leave it to the victim and the bully to make amends and work things out themselves in the guise of prioritizing culture.” It’s only when an official complaint is filed against the company that action is taken. By then, it’s too late.
Many companies are guilty of sweeping complaints about bullying under the rug due to not believing the severity of the complaint or because the individual in question is a top performer or a leadership team member. As someone who was bullied by my boss, the VP of HR, and witnessed her bully others, we were often met with leadership turning a blind eye or hearing “that’s just the way she is.” Everyone knew she was a bully, many feared her, and the turnover on her team was one of the highest, but due to her high-ranking position she never faced repercussions. This was disheartening, destroyed my mental health, and left a lasting impact on me.
Failing To Take Complaints Seriously
One of the worst things a company can do is blame the victim or not take a complaint about bullying seriously. Not only does this send the message to the targeted employee that the bully is protected, but it shows the bully that their behavior is acceptable. It also makes the targeted employee feel devalued and helpless. Companies who don’t act on or take complaints seriously worsen the behaviors of the bully and make the experience worse for the victim. Maryam Ahtasham, SEO executive at Streaming Digitally, said, “another way is by allowing the bully to remain in a position of power, and/or by not providing any consequences for their actions. It’s important to recognize the courage a targeted employee has by coming forward and making a complaint against their bully. Especially if the bully is their manager.
Another way companies fail to protect targeted employees is by taking too long to investigate, respond, provide support or resources, or find a solution to a complaint. This can eventually lead to bigger issues such as potential legal concerns, increased turnover, and damaged morale. Furthermore, it makes the employee feel as if their concerns aren’t being prioritized or taken seriously. Likewise, other individuals who have witnessed, experienced, or know about the bullying will be reluctant to come forward with their own experiences. Tracy Acker, CEO and recruiter at Get Payday Loan, said, “companies that respond professionally and promptly to allegations of workplace bullying are more likely to find that their employees are more comfortable reporting incidents of bullying.” She added, “investigating bullying is not only good for company culture, morale, and business success; it can also help your company stay in compliance with anti-harassment laws and regulations.”
Giving Bullies A Slap On The Wrist
One of the more subtle ways that companies embolden bullies is by giving them a light verbal warning and not taking any corrective action. Moreover, companies empower bullies when they aren’t consistent on how they address and implement sanctions against them. This can be due to a variety of reasons such as a poorly written policy, no policy, or a lack of training on how to respond to bullying.
Companies should not only educate every employee on their anti-bullying stance and policies, but they should train managers and employees on how to identify and address and respond to bullying behavior. When proper training is provided it empowers individuals to intervene and stand up for themselves.
Without a clear policy in place, targets of bullying may not understand constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior in the workplace. Additionally, a policy defines the consequences of bullying to create consistent disciplinary measures. The issue with inconsistency is it can discredit victims, or allow favoritism or bias to overshadow the investigation or complaint. Every incident should be thoroughly documented and referred back to in an effort to indicate potential patterns. Kia Roberts, principal and founder of Triangle Investigations, said, “employers must also be thoughtful and deliberate about the range of corrective actions that can and will be implemented once an allegation of bullying is found to be corroborated. That range of corrective action can go from a written/verbal warning to training, to suspension, to termination.” She added, “having misconduct policies that exist on paper, but that isn’t enforced, is pointless, and opens employers to tremendous liability.”
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