Bullying Not Tolerated: How Proactive HR Policies Make Your Workplace Safer

workplace bullying8:00 a.m. You jump into your first big project of the day, but you know your manager will probably take most of the credit, even though you have done the majority of the work.

10:00 a.m. Meeting. Your boss chastises you in front of colleagues because of a misunderstanding about project requirements.

3:00 p.m. You hear raised voices from the boss’s office. You breathe a sigh of relief that you aren’t the one being yelled at—this time.

Bullying as described above happens in thousands of workplaces every day. According to the 2014 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey 48% of American adults said they had either been bullied at work or had witnessed bullying at work. Unlike harassment and discrimination, the law does not prohibit workplace bullying, making it easy for bullies to throw their weight around without repercussions. But that doesn’t mean companies should turn a blind eye to bullying at work.

How HR Can Help Prevent Workplace Bullying

Bullying has serious consequences for employers, including lost productivity, high turnover rates, reputation damage, and poor employee morale. For victims, bullying often causes missed work days, stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of shame or guilt. All of this ultimately boils down to a toxic work environment that isn’t good for anyone. So what can you do to prevent it? 

  • Take every complaint seriously—Start by making sure every employee knows that bullying won’t be tolerated. The WBI reports that 72% of employers don’t take bullying seriously. Make sure your company is among the 28% that have taken positive steps toward prevention.

  • Create clear policies—HR should take a close look at company policies governing workplace interactions. Policies should clearly state what types of behavior are unacceptable and should outline appropriate steps for employees who have been the target of bullying.

  • Consider mediation services—Mediation services help employees resolve conflicts and develop positive ways of interacting with bosses and co-workers.

  • Update technology—Especially among younger workers, technology resources may provide the extra support needed for dealing with a bully. Online assessments, interactive scenarios, coaching webinars, podcasts, and easy access to manuals and handbooks can all help workers know when to refer someone for employee assistance program (EAP) services, when to contact human resources, and when bullying has crossed the line to harassment or discrimination.

  • Educate and train—Bosses are the most common bullies at work. For this reason, companies should intentionally train managers and supervisors regarding appropriate and inappropriate communication styles. Managers should also be trained in available EAP services and what steps to take if an employee comes to them with a complaint about a coworker.

  • Institute a zero tolerance policy for violations—Despite the best training and policy communication, bullying still happens. Make sure you clearly communicate what the consequences for violations will be, up to and including termination if necessary. When employees know that you take bullying seriously, you will see far fewer incidents in the office.

Not Your Average Schoolyard Bully

Yesterday’s schoolyard bully has become today’s office bully. The difference is that today’s bullies can ply their trade subtly and anonymously using social media and technology in addition to more overt actions. That’s why it’s vital for employees to have resources they can tap into when bullying begins to affect their mental health. They need to know that it’s not normal to fear coming to work or to have anxiety attacks on the job.

If you need help creating policy manuals, offering employee training, or handling employee interventions, talk to your PEO about positive steps you can take to make your workplace a safer, more productive environment.


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