It's no secret that the most successful organizations encourage mutual respect among employees and foster collegial work environments. People simply do not perform at their best in hostile workplaces. I've said this many times: Bullies have no place in the office. They have a toxic effect not only on those who work around them but also, potentially, on your company's reputation overall.
But have organizations succeeded at changing bullies' behavior or weeding them out? According to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, there's more work to be done. The online job site surveyed more than 5,600 employees in Chicago this spring, and 27% reported that they had been recently bullied in the workplace. Furthermore, 14% of the victims said the troublemaker was their immediate boss or someone else in a supervisory role. Most alarmingly: 62% of those who reported bullying to the human resources department said no action was taken to improve the situation.
The survey is a snapshot from one city of bullying in the workplace, but it's really a warning bell for businesses everywhere. Can more be done at your organization to stop bullies?
The first step is to recognize the behavior. It's usually defined as persistent, aggressive and unreasonable behavior toward a subordinate or co-worker. The CareerBuilder survey's respondents were more specific in their descriptions: Bullies are dismissive. They force people to do work that isn't part of their job description. They accuse people falsely of making mistakes and go on the attack in public meetings. They give "mean looks" and steal credit for work that isn't their own. The list goes on.
People who are bullied are not productive. But the toxicity does not stop there. The behavior is observed by peers and can lead to declines in workplace morale, motivation, productivity and performance. You'll also see higher rates of absenteeism. If managers do not deal with bullies effectively, there's an increased risk of a lawsuits. Clearly, bully behavior is something to be prevented, not merely dealt with on a case-by-case basis. When an employee complains about a workplace bully, it's too late.
What can you do about it? Obviously, organizations can't be responsible for the actions of every individual employee. But business owners and senior managers can establish policies that specify acceptable behavior and create a supportive work environment
. These policies must define workplace bullying and outline how such behavior will be dealt with. Most importantly, the policy must be applied to everyone in the organization.
Your human-resources and internal communications departments also can help by designing programs to increase awareness of appropriate workplace behaviors. Such sessions send a clear message to employees that the company is not only committed to their welfare, they also put a priority on a workplace culture that's supportive, collegial and free of bullies.
One-In-Four Workers Have Felt Bullied in the Workplace, CareerBuilder Study Finds