Employers and Employees Play Key Role in Ending Workplace Bullying

Eugene K. Pettis

By Eugene K. Pettis

Bullying isn’t only an issue at schools. It is a growing expression of workplace aggression that continues to increase at epidemic proportions. In the U.S., 37 percent of the workforce has experienced bullying firsthand. A competitive work environment where jobs may be at risk, communications technologies that include text messaging and social media and an employer’s response to the abusive behavior can all contribute to workplace bullying. Employees must do their part to end the negative cycle, but ultimately, employers must address the issue.

Workplace bullying is the repeated mistreatment of an employee. It occurs when one person or a group of people in a workplace single out another person and embarrass, intimidate, or humiliate them either verbally or non-verbally. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, in a stable economy, 34 percent of bullied targets voluntarily quit jobs to avoid further bullying. However, in today’s economic climate, that might not be an option.

Employers define the work environment. An unhealthy workplace may be caused by a highly competitive atmosphere – where employees are pitted against each other – and only one person can emerge as a winner. The bullying attacks simply become a means for survival. Information and communications technologies such as email, instant messaging and social networks can allow for cyber-bullying and can become a part of this toxic mix of mistreatment. Fact is: approximately 40% of those targeted never tell their employers.

Victims must first recognize the mistreatment then take action to stop it. Steps to take include:

  • Accept that the negative behavior targeted at them is not normal or shameful. Defining the issue as bullying enables them to move forward in rectifying the situation.
  • Alert a supervisor or HR representative about the issue and the offender, filing a formal complaint. In some instances, appealing to the employer’s financial bottom line can be more effective than an emotional appeal, referencing the costly nature of a bully as it leads to turnover.
  • If the situation is not resolved appropriately, contact legal counsel for advice.

Employers can take steps to mitigate the potential for bullying and cyber-bullying in the workplace by defining policies and protocols, which may include:

  • Implementing a comprehensive written policy that communicates a zero tolerance toward in-person and cyber-bullying inside and outside of the workplace.
  • Quickly taking action when workforce bullying claims are brought to attention of management.
  • Recognizing bullies and punishing them instead of promoting or hiring them. Overly-ambitious employees can appear motivated when in fact they may be willing to hurt others to get a promotion.
  • Proactively manage, measure, and monitor workplace stress and satisfaction levels. Companies with good anti-bullying policies usually hold meetings from time to time to remind employees what workplace bullying is, how to report it, and the consequences.

By keeping the end goal of having a productive, positive workplace in mind, employees and employers can come together to reduce issues through open communication and enforcing penalties for infractions of in-person and cyber-bullying corporate policies. For more information about social media legal issues, contact Eugene Pettis at epettis@haliczerpettis.com.