Bullying in the Workplace2023-11-09T00:59:59-08:00
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Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could psychologically or ‘mentally’ hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well. Bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could psychologically or ‘mentally’ hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well.

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Communication & Workplace Bullying

How you communicate with your employees affects their performance and comfort. To successfully prevent incidents of bullying and harassment in your workplace you need to provide your employees with clear and consistent communication. Bullying is a workplace issue, and occupational health and safety laws include the concept of due diligence, which requires you to take every reasonable precaution to prevent all injuries and incidents in your workplace.

Bullying preventing starts with effective leadership. Many HR leaders strive for excellent communication, but without the proper guidelines to follow it is difficult to pinpoint the right types of communication for your employees. Learn the 5 steps you need to follow when improving your employee communication by download the special report that goes over:

  • Communication: Online Vs. Offline
  • Building an Executive Leadership Communication Plan
  • 10 Priorities to Successfully Implement 360 Feedback Survey
  • Communication Vs. Gossip – What’s the Difference?

Download Employee Communication Special Report

Understanding the Bullying & Harassment Lawscape

The intricacies of bullying and harassment laws can often seem like a labyrinth to the untrained eye, leaving victims confused and perpetrators inadequately held to account. As our interactions increasingly take place in digital realms—where words and actions can be both amplified and obscured—the need to understand this “lawscape” has never been more critical.

It’s essential to distinguish between bullying and harassment, terms often used interchangeably but carry different implications in the legal world. Bullying generally refers to repeated aggressive behavior intended to hurt or intimidate another person, physically or mentally. Harassment, on the other hand, is unwelcome behavior that demeans, humiliates, or embarrasses a person, and is often characterized by a power imbalance. When such conduct is based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, it may escalate into unlawful discrimination.

Learn how to address and prevent workplace bullying by understanding investigations and policies, the Human Rights Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Better employee communications decrease your workplace incidents significantly. Do your policies clearly define and provide resources for your employees?

What Does Bullying Look Like?

Workplace bullying typically manifests as behaviors or verbal remarks that can emotionally harm or alienate someone at work. It can also escalate to unwelcome physical interactions. This type of harassment often consists of consistent patterns of conduct aimed at belittling, intimidating, or humiliating a specific individual or group. Moreover, it’s recognized as an aggressive exercise of power.

Unlike specific protections against harassment that is based on a protected characteristic (like race, gender, or religion), general workplace bullying is not always clearly addressed in legislation. In some jurisdictions, workplace bullying can fall under broader occupational health and safety laws. For instance, in the United States, while there is no federal law directly outlawing workplace bullying, some states have passed legislation to fill this gap. It’s also possible for severe cases to be considered under laws related to intentional infliction of emotional distress or hostile work environment provisions.

Identifying Bullying Behaviors:

It’s essential for both employers and employees to recognize the signs of bullying. These may include:

Unwarranted or invalid criticism.

  • Public humiliation.
  • Excessive monitoring or micromanagement.
  • Taking credit for another’s work.
  • Deliberate exclusion from professional opportunities or meetings.
  • Spreading false rumors or malicious gossip.
  • Creating impossible or constantly changing deadlines.
  • Blocking requests for leave or promotion without a legitimate reason.

Need to make updates to your bullying policy? Use HR insider’s Bullying & Cyberbullying Policy

What Bullying is Not!

Workplace bullying is a term that has garnered significant attention in corporate dialogues. However, amidst the discussions, there can be misconceptions and misunderstandings about what constitutes bullying in a professional setting. It’s just as crucial to understand what does not fall under workplace bullying as it is to recognize the actual signs. Here, we aim to dispel some common myths and clarify what workplace bullying is not, helping to sharpen focus on real issues and avoid diluting the term’s significance with common workplace conflicts.

Assertive Leadership vs. Bullying:

Assertiveness is often a necessary trait in management. Leaders must make tough decisions, provide constructive criticism, and hold team members accountable. Such actions can involve uncomfortable conversations and disciplinary measures, but they do not automatically equate to bullying. A leader who is setting clear expectations, providing feedback—even if it’s negative, when delivered respectfully—is not a bully.

Learn the leadership qualities that make a difference! Use HR Insider’s
Leadership Qualities Checklist.

Single Incidents vs. Persistent Behavior:

Workplace bullying is characterized by persistence. A single incident of rudeness or a one-time conflict between colleagues does not constitute bullying. People can have bad days and moments where they respond in ways that are out of character, which can result in isolated incidents of poor behavior. For behavior to be classified as bullying, it must be repeated and form a pattern over time.

Performance Management vs. Bullying:

Providing employees with performance evaluations, even if they are poor, is not bullying. It is a necessary part of a manager’s role to assess and communicate when work does not meet the required standard. The key difference is that performance management should be objective, fair, and focused on work-related issues. It becomes bullying when feedback is delivered with malice, involves personal insults, or the employee is being set up to fail through unrealistic expectations.

Audit your performance management policy! Use HR Insider’s
Performance Management Policy Template.

How Does Bullying Affect the Workplace?

The effects of bullying go beyond the individual being targeted. It can lead to decreased employee morale, increased absenteeism and turnover, reduced productivity, and even damage to the organization’s reputation. For the individual, the impact can be devastating, including stress, anxiety, depression, and a host of physical health problems.

When the word “bullying” is mentioned, it often conjures images of schoolyard tussles and childish name-calling. However, bullying in the workplace is a stark reality that carries significant ramifications not just for the individuals directly involved, but for the entire organizational ecosystem. The impacts are multifaceted, affecting the emotional and physical well-being of employees, disrupting team dynamics, and eroding the very foundations of corporate culture.

What Can You Do?

Employee Health and Well-being:

The most immediate and apparent impact of workplace bullying is on the targeted individuals. Persistent bullying can lead to a range of stress-related health issues such as high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue, and a weakened immune response. Mental health suffers significantly, with victims experiencing increased levels of anxiety, depression, and even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The fear and stress can lead to substance abuse as a coping mechanism in some cases, further endangering an individual’s health.

Morale and Job Satisfaction:

Workplace bullying corrodes the overall morale of the team. Observing or being aware of bullying within the workplace can create a pervasive sense of insecurity and demotivation among employees. Job satisfaction plummets when employees do not feel safe or valued in their work environment, and this discontent can be contagious, leading even those not directly affected to reconsider their engagement with the organization.

Productivity and Performance:

With morale at a low, productivity naturally follows suit. Victims of bullying can become disengaged, less likely to participate actively in tasks, or be absent due to stress-related illnesses. The psychological strain can impair concentration and decision-making, leading to increased error rates and a decline in the quality of work. When employees are more focused on navigating a toxic work environment than on their tasks, the entire organization’s performance can suffer.

Absenteeism and Turnover:

Frequent absences are a common consequence of workplace bullying as individuals may seek to avoid their tormentor or need time off to recover from the stress. In the long term, continuous bullying is a significant factor in decisions to leave the company, resulting in high turnover rates. Replacing employees is not only costly but can also lead to a loss of valuable knowledge and experience for the company.


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Date Modified: 2023-07-11

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