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July 22, 2022

Train Your Team to Recognize Signs of Workplace Bullying

Train Your Team to Recognize Signs of Workplace Bullying featured image

As an employer, it’s your responsibility to create a safe and healthy workplace for your employees. This applies whether they’re contributing in person or working remotely, and it’s true of all kinds of safety and well-being. This goes beyond physical violence to include harassment, bullying and psychological abuse.

Bullying can involve a few incidents or play out over a long time. When it doesn’t include hands-on violence, it could be harder to detect than other kinds of negative workplace conduct. However, this doesn’t mean any business can afford to ignore or under-prioritize bullying prevention.

Stamping out bullying in the workplace and creating an environment where everyone feels heard, welcome and respected can put an organization on the right path. Everything from day-to-day morale to retention, hiring and productivity tends to improve amid a positive, supportive company culture.

But how can your organization put this important idea into practice? One important step in anti-bullying efforts involves training employees to recognize the signs of bullying and harassment. Once workers of all levels know what to look out for, and what to do about it, they can contribute actively to bettering their environment.

What Is Workplace Bullying?

The exact conduct that constitutes workplace bullying differs from one business to another; it is made up of a wide spectrum of harmful behaviors. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) describes it as abuse that is repeated and harms the health of another employee. It could involve verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation or sabotage of a colleague’s work.

Workplace bullying occupies a unique place amid other kinds of harassment and abuse at work, as it is sometimes mistaken for tough yet acceptable conduct. This makes it especially important for leaders and employees to understand what constitutes bullying and how to take action against it.

The WBI states this type of everyday abuse is “normalized” and “the only form of abuse in America that is not yet taboo.” When supervisors and organizational leaders write off bullying, assuming it’s not causing permanent harm, their employees may be suffering a severe mental toll, and the company could also be experiencing negative effects.

As the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) notes, workplace bullying sometimes falls short of the legal standards that criminalize discrimination and harassment. This makes it harder to take a stand against bullying, and has caused multiple state legislatures to introduce laws that make “generic workplace bullying” illegal at the state level.

While this lack of a uniform federal law against bullying can confuse companies’ efforts to prepare their employees to create a safer and healthier workplace, leaders can and should still pursue their own awareness and prevention programs. These efforts involve training on a variety of subjects around bullying, including recognizing the signs that unacceptable conduct is occurring.

Workplace Bullying by the Numbers

In its 2021 survey, the WBI notes several important statistics showing just how prevalent bullying is in U.S. offices. For example:

  • 79.3 million people have been affected by bullying.
  • Only 23% of respondents said they have no experience with workplace bullying.
  • 65% of people bullied were victimized by people above them on the chain of command.

The WBI research also added an important note for today’s digital and hybrid workplaces: The bullying rate among remote employees is approximately 43%, half of which is carried out in meetings and 9% via email. Physical distance from abusive coworkers doesn’t stop them from causing harm.

With so much negative and abusive conduct going on across workplaces, it’s important for businesses to get started on campaigns to help workers recognize the problem and step in to stop it.

What Are The Signs of Workplace Bullying?

Seeing the difference between a normally stressful or intense work situation and bullying is an important first step in bullying prevention — if incidents are being ignored or explained away, there is no incentive for the aggressor to stop.

The following are a few of the signs employees should learn to look for when receiving training on understanding and stopping bullying in the workplace:

  • Ignoring and exclusion: Sometimes, bullying isn’t about being directly aggressive toward a colleague. Instead, the workplace bully may go out of their way to include and talk to the victim as little as possible. The HR Digest explained when a person is cut off from meetings, activities or even everyday conversations, that can be a form of bullying. The victim in this case could feel intensely isolated, damaging their morale and self-worth. Leaders can also cause harm by making an employee feel useless or constantly manipulating their job descriptions without warning.
  • ‘Equal opportunity’ cruelty from leaders: A mean manager who discriminates based on race, religion, age or sexual orientation is committing criminal workplace harassment. But what about someone who is indiscriminately mean? SHRM stated while this may not violate the letter of the law, it’s still worth creating office policies against. Making it clear that a cruel, degrading management style is never acceptable, and reminding workers they will be supported if they report such behavior, is an important pillar of anti-bullying campaigns.
  • Deceiving colleagues, undermining them or setting impossible goals: Sometimes, rather than using personal attacks to harm colleagues, workplace bullies will impede their work. There are a variety of ways to lash out at others through assignments. For example, The HR Digest explains how lying to colleagues to get one’s own way is a form of bullying, as is intentionally harming the progress of a fellow employee’s projects. Supervisors may also create expectations that are impossible to meet, setting workers up to fail.

Workplace bullying covers a wide spectrum of behaviors associated with bad, inhospitable workplaces. Rather than simply accepting these issues as par for the course or something to be endured, however, a bullied employee should feel empowered to speak out and halt them.

How Can Employees Cut Down on Workplace Bullying?

In a workplace culture serious about preventing bullying, workers should have access to pathways to go through to have their concerns heard. These should be free of judgment or retaliation, otherwise they aren’t suitable for their intended purpose. Putting these frameworks in place is an important complement to raising awareness of bullying.

As an organizational leader, it may be uncomfortable to think workers at your company would bully their colleagues, however, it’s better to put specific policies in place than rely on unwritten rules or trust employees to police themselves. Official rules give workers a procedure to follow when they are being bullied or see their colleagues being victimized.

HR Daily Advisor suggests a few specific steps organizations should take when becoming more intentional about stopping bullying in the workplace. These include:

  • Creating and clearly communicating anti-bullying policies: Rules and frameworks aren’t useful unless workers know about them. There are multiple ways for businesses to communicate their stances on bullying and harassment, including employee manuals, orientation training and periodic refresher courses.
  • Giving multiple reporting paths and supporting workers who come forward: There should be more than one way to report a bullying incident. If an employee’s supervisor is the only person who can hear a complaint, that method won’t work when the supervisor is the bully. Once a report is made, the business should have policies in place to ensure workers are taken seriously and there is no retaliation.
  • Implementing progressive disciplinary systems: Discipline should be swift — as soon as companies confirm there has been an incident worth a response, the aggressor should receive a punishment in line with a clearly defined framework. When organizations lay out what to do about a first offense, a repeat offense, a severe incident and more, they can counteract bullying in an equitable, consistent way.
  • Leading by example: Any policies designed to shape and control workplace conduct should receive specific support from company leadership. This means management personnel at all levels should abide by the rules themselves and be strong advocates for those values. This creates a feeling of seriousness and legitimacy and lets potential aggressors know bullying won’t be tolerated.
  • Training employees comprehensively: There are many kinds of training that go into transforming employee behavior for the better. The human resources department should be ready to provide support for new workers at their orientation, as well as refreshers. While it’s easier to draw up a specific schedule in cases of behavior governed by national or state laws, HR departments should not overlook more nebulously defined subjects such as bullying.

Companies with programs in place to specifically reduce workplace bullying may see both immediate and long-term benefits. Employees who are no longer suffering from the mental health effects of bullying can feel free to contribute more fully, be more productive, motivated and engaged in their tasks and making the business stronger overall.

Policies designed to create a more hospitable employee environment can have an especially large impact on the bottom line during hiring crises such as the ongoing Great Resignation. At a time when top-performing candidates have a great deal of open positions to choose from, they don’t have to tolerate work environments with obvious bullying, pressure and harassment.

How Does Training Help Counteract Workplace Bullying?

As with any complex topic, there are numerous types of training content around bullying in the workplace. These courses cover every aspect of recognizing, stopping and preventing harmful behavior.

Training content may differ by its exact take on a subject, as well as by intended audience. Especially when dealing with disciplinary issues, it’s important for people at every level of authority to understand their specific roles in creating a better work environment.

A few of examples of training courses designed specifically to teach employees how to stop bullying in the workplace include:

  • Workplace Bullying: This learning module is based on identifying when workplace bullying is occurring, as well as understanding the ways in which conduct can harm individuals and whole businesses. One of the focus areas of the course is explaining how bullying can take place nonverbally, via email, text or other communication methods.
  • Bullying and Other Disruptive Behavior for Managers and Supervisors: This is a course specifically designed for various types of leaders throughout a company. It’s essential for people with leadership responsibilities to understand bullying, because they are the ones tasked with disciplinary matters. Learners who take this course will be better able to coach their teams against bullying and respond effectively when an incident occurs.
  • Bullying and Other Disruptive Behavior for Employees: This course is a companion piece to the supervisor-focused version. It is meant to ensure all employees know how to report an incident of bullying, and understand how the company will support them and take their issues seriously. The module also contains advice on how to defuse conflicts in the moment, as they are happening.

What’s the Ideal Approach to HR Training Today?

As workplaces evolve, they are unfortunately faced with the same types of situations they have dealt with for years. Even remote and hybrid workplaces must find ways to counteract bullying, despite the fact their teams don’t all occupy the same space. Bullying via email and video conference is still hurtful, so all types of employers must have adequate HR training programs.

Video-based online training has become an increasingly popular method of employee education for companies of all kinds. Its advantages include the relatively low cost of online modules compared to in-person, instructor-led sessions, as well as the ability to give consistent lessons to every new hire, regardless of location.

Whether employees work in one office or hundreds of homes around the world, it’s possible to launch a complete, effective bullying identification and prevention training program via an online training content network. Course offerings can be updated over time as new materials become available, and interactive quizzes can track learners’ progress, making sure they internalize the important messages of their lessons.

To learn more about bullying recognition training and other HR essentials, click here.

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