Workplace bullying is a rather surprisingly widespread problem. According to a recent survey by VitalSmarts, a corporate training and leadership development consulting company, 96 percent of American workers have experienced workplace bullying. Among the survey respondents, 89 percent reported bullying incidents that had persisted for more than one year. Fifty-four percent had dealt with the negative actions of a coworker or manager for more than five years.
The most common types of bullying reported in the survey were sabotage of the work or reputation of others (cited by 62 percent of respondents who had experienced bullying) and browbeating, verbal intimidation and threats (52 percent). Only 4 percent of the bullied respondents had dealt with physical intimidation or threats.
Other studies have revealed similar findings. In one, more than 25 percent of the surveyed workers reported that they had experienced abusive conduct at work. In another, 64 percent stated that workplace bullying had physically hurt them, driven them to tears or had a negative effect on their work performance. It’s easy to see why; bullying certainly creates an uncomfortable work environment. This leads to lower productivity and higher turnover—and both cost employers money.
While the development of a workplace anti-bullying policy is necessary, the process can be difficult due to both practical and legal considerations. For example, how do you distinguish malicious bullying from friendly banter or teasing? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has further complicated the matter with challenges to employer workplace bullying policies, generally because they find the language within them to be too broad.
If you’ve yet to address bullying in your workplace, you may choose to expand your existing harassment policy to include it or create a standalone policy. Whichever course you decide to take, make sure you do the following:
- State that your company is committed to promoting a respectful, bully-free workplace.
- Define workplace bullying as clearly as you can and include a statement that shows you are aware of the levels of bullying that may take place (between managers and workers, between coworkers, between clients and workers, etc.).
- Include a detailed list of the types of behavior you will not tolerate under the new policy.
- Describe the procedure for reporting bullying incidents. Because employees may be fearful of bully retaliation, consider an anonymous reporting system.
- Outline the consequences of violating the anti-bullying policy. This includes how you intend to document the disciplinary process and the types of discipline you will enforce.
- Communicate the policy to employees at all levels within your organization.
- Take all complaints of bullying seriously, regardless of whether a legally protected class of worker is involved or not.
The Society for Human Resource Management has a sample policy online that includes a relatively broad definition of workplace bullying coupled with a list of examples of bullying actions. The American Bar Association offers a similar template online as well—and this one includes instructions for reporting workplace-bullying incidents to management.
Enforcing a workplace anti-bullying policy shows you value and respect your employees and will protect their right to a pleasant workplace. For further assistance with its development, contact your benefits advisor and/or legal counsel.