Bullying Doesn’t Just Happen at School: Workplace Bullying

Written by: Lorrie Howard, Horizon Point Consulting

I recently saw an article about a nine year old boy in Denver who took his own life after being bullied during his first four days of school. My youngest son is eight and I can’t imagine him ever feeling like his only choice is suicide.

When my oldest was in elementary school he was bullied by another child at his daycare. While he has always been a very headstrong child, the bullying continued to the point where he had put up with enough. Together we sat down with his martial arts instructor, who is phenomenal at working with children to tackle such hard issues, and he helped us to formulate a game plan on how to handle it. With his help, my son was able to show his bully that his words weren’t having the effect he was aiming for, and eventually the two actually became friends.

Bullying isn’t limited to children. A survey sponsored by the Workplace Bullying Institute in 2017 showed that a staggering number of U.S. workers experienced bullying in the workplace.

  • 5 million U.S. workers reported experiencing bullying in the workplace
  • Women experience bullying, from both women and men, at a much higher rate with 65% of male bullies targeting women and 67% of female bullies targeting women
  • 61% reported that they were bullied by a boss
  • 25% reported that their employer did nothing while 46% reported that their employer conducted a “sham” investigation

Bullying in the workplace has an impact on the organization as well, including increased turnover, loss of valuable talent, decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and even the risk of litigation. So how can employers minimize these risks?

  1. Have a well-defined Harassment Policy. Workplace bullying is a form of harassment. While most bullying may not be illegal, that doesn’t make it okay. Make sure your Harassment Policy includes workplace bullying. Train your leadership on what bullying is, how to conduct themselves to set the example, and how to handle it if an employee reports bullying. Review your Harassment Policy with all new hires, and annually with all staff.
  2. Have and follow a formal investigation process. Your policy should include information on how reports will be handled. Determine who will conduct the investigation, how it will be conducted, and make sure your findings are well documented. Do not ignore reports of bullying and do not put off investigating those reports.
  3. Take proper action to eliminate the behavior. Once you have completed a thorough investigation, determine what action needs to be taken to make the bullying behavior cease. That could be anything from a documented verbal conversation with the accused up to termination. If the accused is not terminated, monitor the situation to ensure that the actions have in fact ceased. Do not assume that it has and let it go.
  4. Promote a workplace that welcomes diversity, inclusion, and a difference of opinions. Work hard to promote an organization that encourages teamwork, uniqueness, and freedom to communicate- even when what an employee has to say may go against the grain. Pay attention to where there may be breakdowns in this and work to build them up. Host company functions that encourage employees to get to know each other. Provide new employees with mentors who can help guide them and integrate them into the organization. And have an open door, where employees feel comfortable voicing concerns or issues. And again, take those concerns or issues seriously because not doing so leads to a breakdown of trust.
  5. When needed, provide employees with outside resources to help them cope. I’m a huge proponent of Employee Assistance Programs. If you have one, make sure both the accused and the accuser are provided with that resource. If you don’t have an EAP, there are other resources available to employees that may help them. You never really know why someone bullies, or what is going on in the mind of someone who is being bullied. Sometimes it takes a trained professional to assist them.

60.5 million is a staggering and unacceptable number. Bullying is not an inherent trait, it is a learned behavior. Just as I aim to teach my children acceptance and kindness, employers can aim to promote those values in throughout their organization as well.

Below are some additional resources on bullying:





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