The 411 on the workplace bully

16 Mar

It's important to recognize the signs of office bullying.

In an office setting, odds are that not all co-workers will get along seamlessly. However, as an employer, you need to be able to discern whether someone is taking unfriendliness a little too far and has become an office bully.

Workplace bullying can take on many forms – including verbal abuse, work sabotage, work interference, intimidation, threatening behavior and more – and can either be general behavior toward all co-workers or targeted to a specific individual.

Many times these issues arise out of the office bully needing to feel a sense of control. In many cases, managers – rather than other employees – can be the biggest offenders. According to a study conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute, in 57 percent of cases, workplace bullies are men, but both male and female bullies are more likely to target female co-workers. 

Workplace bullying can have a huge impact on morale in the office, especially if many staff members are having issues and feeling uncomfortable.  And don't forget – human capital is one of your greatest assets. If you sense that you may be having a bullying problem in your office, keep the following topics in mind as you plan for a conversation about the employee's action and future with the company.

  • Know the difference between being a bully and having a bad day. If a single co-worker makes a complaint about an isolated incident, it may not really qualify as office bullying. Everyone has bad days when they may be irritated or act semi-inappropriately, but with an office bully, the behavior is consistent.

    "The key is that it's not just a one-time thing," Stacy Tye-Williams, lead author of a study published in the journal Management Communication Quarterly, explained. "It's more than one person snapping you on a bad day. It's the person who snaps at you repeatedly to a point where you go, this is systemic. This is how they work."

  • Make sure you understand the company's disciplinary policies. Each company has its own system for dealing with employee-related problems, so be sure to brush up on your company's policy before meeting with the office bully. This way, you can know for sure that you are passing on the proper future actions that may take place, including counseling, suspension or termination.
  • Keep the complaints confidential. When you confront the office bully, you will need to bring up the fact that complaints were made. However, whenever possible try to keep the stories general so the bully can't tell who filed complaints. If he or she can tell who is reporting them, it may lead to retaliation that can be even worse than the initial offending behavior.
  • Be sure to keep notes of the behavior. It may be difficult to remember specific details after an incident occurs, so be sure to have physical evidence of the complaint.

    "Bullied employees must document their bullying experience as soon as possible so that they do not forget key information," said Lisa Barrow, a workplace bullying consultant with LMSB Consulting. "This will help them regain control over the situation."

    You can either have co-workers send you an email detailing their experiences or take notes during a one-on-one meeting, but make sure you get all the necessary details while they're still fresh in their minds.

  • Be stern with the offending employee. When you confront the office bully about his or her behavior, it's important to be stern. It is likely that he or she will try to make excuses or rationalize the actions as a joke, but you must remain firm that the behavior cannot continue and will not be tolerated.

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