Bullying can sometimes be thought of as an issue left behind in childhood, but many employees still experience behaviors like spiteful comments, verbal criticism, or exclusion.
Workplace bullying can happen in any team across any industry, and if left unchecked, these behaviors may escalate and become pervasive. This could negatively impact not only the specific victim of bullying, but all employees throughout the organization.
We’re going to explore some of the most common places that you may notice bullying, what research tells us about these behaviors, and tactics to address and prevent bullying in your company.
How is Workplace Bullying Defined?
According to The Workplace Bullying Institute: “Workplace bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment by one or more employees or an employee: abusive conduct that takes the form of verbal abuse; or behaviors perceived as intimidating, or humiliating; work sabotage; or some combination of the above.”
Depending on the work sector, bullying could even be a common part of a workplace culture. According to SHRM, bullying has a tendency to thrive in fields with highly stressful conditions or rigid hierarchical structures. These could include healthcare, sales, education, or public service, among others.
A bullying issue can also stem from a negative managerial structure or a workplace culture founded on competition. Bullying can be things like assigning impossible tasks, repeatedly denying time off, taking credit for someone else’s work, denying access to information, or holding past mistakes against someone.
Additional examples of workplace bullying include:
- Aggressive language
- Threatening gestures
- Physical violence
- Conducting practical jokes
- Sharing sensitive photos
- Spreading rumors
- Social exclusion
As you can see, workplace bullying and harassment can take many forms, some more subtle than others. It’s important to remember that subtle incidents can cause real harm.
Workplace Bullying by the Numbers
These workplace harassment stats help shed light on how pervasive this harmful behavior is throughout the United States. Being aware of these numbers is key as you consider how to develop a healthier work environment.
It’s estimated that 48.6 million Americans have been bullied at work. According to the 2021 US Bullying Survey, this amounts to 30% of American adults. It was also found that in a traditional work setting, most bullying happens during meetings and face-to-face interactions.
However, as the COVID pandemic caused many people to begin working from home, the overall percentage of those experiencing harassment rose to 43%.
It’s thought that having additional ways to send messages may contribute to this higher number relating to remote work, along with the impersonal nature of online work relationships. Poor conduct generally feels less risky with miles between the bully, the victim, and the supervisor that would reprimand the behavior.
Here are a few more insights:
- 19% of individuals have witnessed workplace bullying
- 49% of workers feel personally impacted by workplace harassment
- 66% of employees are aware of bullying, even if they’re not involved
These numbers are definitely cause for concern, especially when you consider that just about half the workforce feel the effects of bullying in professional settings.
What Are The Effects of Workplace Bullying?
Workplace bullying has wide-spread ramifications. You, your employees, and your organization as a whole could be negatively impacted.
On a personal level, bullying at work can cause mental and physical symptoms such as:
- Low self-esteem
- Muscle tension
- High blood pressure
When employees are dealing with these kinds of issues, they’ll dread coming into work and absenteeism can quickly become a problem. If the bullying persists, employees may choose to leave the company altogether in search of a more welcoming workplace.
When the bullying victim is at work, their morale will be low because the environment makes them depressed and anxious. Bullying also make it difficult for workers to perform their jobs. If they’re not feeling happy and motivated, their productivity is bound to decrease. The stress of being bullied can also make it hard to make decisions, which will continue slowing down workplace procedures.
In cases of extreme bullying that remain unchecked, a victimized employee may choose to take legal action against the company. This is costly to both budget and reputation. The poor public image that results from such cases, or even just from word of mouth, could make recruiting new employees a major struggle going forward.
How to Prevent Bullying at Work
Now that you better understand the scope and severity of the effects of workplace bullying, and how it can affect your teams, you’ll want to start creating strategies to address and end these behaviors.
Here are some strategies to counteract bullying in the workplace:
A great first step is to explicitly describe your anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies to employees at every level of the organization. It’s important to be clear and straightforward when communicating behavior expectations so there’s no confusion or “gray area” where a person may work around a policy.
In some cases, a worker may be bullied by their supervisor. Because of this, it’s vital to give employees an additional point of contact to reach out to if they experience bullying. Providing the option to report incidents anonymously can also encourage hesitant people to express their concerns.
Every report of workplace bullying should be taken seriously. No one should be given leeway when exhibiting harmful behavior. Reports of bullying should also be addressed in a timely manner, with conversations starting immediately when the incident is discovered. Developing a system for how and when disciplinary actions are carried out can help these processes operate more smoothly.
Investing in training courses is another effective tactic to prevent and address workplace bullying. These could be courses specifically about bullying behavior, but other topics may be useful in preventing bullying behavior, such as teaching employees how to properly give and receive criticism, or training supervisors about effectively resolving workplace conflict before it escalates.
Finally, if your budget allows, your organization may consider hiring a third-party individual or team to take your company’s pulse so that you get an unbiased assessment of how healthy or unhealthy your company culture is. This could be something you implement periodically, or you may decide to hire this help for the long-term to address incoming complaints.
Your Next Steps with KnowledgeCity
Workplace bullying presents in a variety of contexts and with varying degrees of severity. Even if incidents seem isolated and mild, it’s important to take note at once and make moves toward correcting the behavior.
A simple, but impactful way to prepare for this work is to take KnowledgeCity’s course Managing Bullying and Disruptive Behaviors and distribute it across your organization to ensure a common focus and set of goals.
This comprehensive course explains all the best practices for responding to reports of bullying, how to build a culture of bullying awareness, how to remain compliant during case investigations, and more.
Start your free KnowledgeCity trial today to protect the welfare of your employees and foster a supportive company culture.
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