All HR leaders need to be aware of the threat posed by workplace bullying—especially in remote businesses, where bullying behavior can be harder to spot. Bullying affects employee engagement, productivity and, ultimately, your bottom line. In fact, a HBR survey found 47% of employees who experienced incivility intentionally decreased their time spent at work.
Small acts of incivility, sarcasm and low-level conflict can quickly escalate into bullying. If these are left unaddressed, a negative atmosphere can develop and, soon, unlawful behavior.
According to expert Catherine Mattice Zundel, president of Civility Partners, if you’re not actively creating a culture of positivity, you could be allowing a breeding ground for workplace bullying and abusive conduct. Today, we’re sharing the findings of a recent webinar, where Catherine gave a complete definition of workplace bullying, explaining how it can be best addressed and prevented.
What are the Categories of Workplace Bullying?
The scale of workplace bullying ranges from incivility and unprofessionalism and can ascend to conflict, bullying and violence. Bullying and harassment are the same behaviors—the only difference is at whom they are aimed. Harassment and discrimination (against a protected class) is a subcategory of workplace bullying; another subcategory is group bullying or hazing.
Harassment becomes unlawful when enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment or the conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider it intimidating, hostile or abusive.
It’s also important to note that workplace violence is not always punching and inciting physical abuse. It can also include acts that incite fear of aggression.
Three Types of Bullying Behavior
- Aggressive communication (e.g., yelling)
- Humiliation (e.g., leaving people out)
- Manipulation (e.g., punishing someone for being a minute late, giving unclear instructions on purpose, taking away a big project)
When bullying behaviors are present, you can see certain performance indicators moving down. In fact, in an HBR study of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries who had experienced bullying, 48% of respondents intentionally decreased work effort, 80% lost work time and 63% avoided the offender.
Traditional guidance on solving the problem of workplace bullying is to create policies and enforce training but that is not a complete solution. Focusing only on training just checks the box. Trainings are so focused on the definition of the law that they become irrelevant. You need to focus on leaders (anyone who influences the organization), policy, culture and behavior.
Defining Risk Factors
All organizations have risk factors for this type of behavior. If you have an organization that is a high-stress environment, it creates an opportunity for bad things to happen. Other risk factors include a young workforce, a lack of diversity, internal competition or naming “high value” employees. In order to combat these, it’s important to create policies and procedures as well as a culture that hinders or minimizes the risk factors.
Create Standards for Behavior
According to Zundel, a change in behavior requires a shift in culture. You have to invest in a see-something-say-something culture and in allyship. You also have to provide coaching to those who engage in negative behaviors. It is a performance problem, and it should be addressed as such.
Beginning a culture shift requires the following steps:
- Executive sponsorship
Change almost always comes from the top down. Leadership teams must commit to change and get involved in the process.
- Do (the right) research
Consider the questions you’re asking. While you or an outside vendor may by default be measuring engagement that may not be enough. Consider whether or not you’re measuring all of the critical data points and viewing data according to segmented audiences (women, underrepresented groups, etc.).
- Develop an action plan
Create an action team that is representative of the organization and work with that team to create an action plan. Examples of action plan items include:
- Ongoing coaching for leadership team
- Crowdsourced list of 40+ job boards for more diverse candidates
- More transparency and communication e.g., through “Coffee with CIO” or quarterly all-staff meetings.
- Focus on behavior
Consider whether you want people to cite legal definitions or demonstrate respect, empathy and inclusivity? This will guide the way training is designed.
As an HR leader, it’s important to set guidelines for respect and behavior just like you would do anything else (attendance, rules). Managers and leaders at any level can perpetuate a positive work environment within their teams. It requires an organizational culture approach and involving leaders in building that culture.
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