Taunting. Teasing. Being singled out for one’s physical appearance and prevented from engaging with others in a meaningful way. This is bullying. Most of us imagine these things taking place on a playground, perhaps accompanied by one child pushing another or several students laughing at bad jokes made at the expense of another.

While people learn how to be bullies in the schoolyard, those behaviors can continue into adulthood. Bullying can happen anywhere: in traffic, at the grocery store, or even at home with the family. When it happens at work, however, it’s an employer’s responsibility to stop it. Your employees, and your bottom line will thank you.

What Does Workplace Bullying Look Like?

High turnover, a lack of teamwork, and gossip are all signs you could have a bully in your midst. Still, bullying may be hard to identify. Some operate openly, using their status among other workers or their position within the company to justify their actions. A shouting manager is a bully, as is any worker who openly ridicules another.

Some bullies are slyer, however. They might use tactics like spreading gossip about an employee to turn others against him, or sexual harassment when out of sight or earshot of other employees. The bullied worker may feel trapped, since they have no proof of the transgression, and therefore no recourse.

Who Are Bullies?

Bullies can be anyone in your company, from the newest member who feels like he has to make a name for himself right away at the expense of others, to managers and CEOs who begin throwing others under the bus to keep their position in the company.

Who Do They Target?

Bullies tend to target your best and brightest. This is because bullies feel threatened by those who might rise above them and try to drive those workers out of the company so they don’t have to face the competition.

How Bullies Affect Business

Because bullies target the people you most want to work for you, you could lose your best employees. They may leave the company to work elsewhere, too embarrassed or afraid to tell you their real reasons. Other employees may feel pressure to achieve less in order to avoid becoming a target. The result is a struggle to attract and keep top talent, as well as poor performance by the employees you do have.

How to Address Bullying When You See It

If you discover a bully in your company, address it immediately. Talk with the bully about his actions. Make sure he understands exactly what behavior is unacceptable, and your expectations for behavior in the future. Document everything, including details of the incident and any witnesses.

Don’t bring the bullied employee into the conversation. Since bullying involves intimidation, your efforts to “get the full story” or mediate the situation could backfire and matters worse for the victim. Instead, speak with the victim separately to get more details about the incident and ask whether there have been other incidents. Let them know you’ll be speaking with the bully and that harassment should stop immediately.

Leave your door open for concerns in the future, and follow up with both employees over the next several months or year. Most bullies are resistant to changing their behavior because this strategy has worked for them since they were kids.

How to Prevent Workplace Bullying

The best way to deal with bullying is to prevent it altogether. Here’s how:

  • Detail behavior and harassment policies in the employee handbook, and make sure every employee has an updated copy.
  • Identify ways that you may be enabling bullying, such as a policy of letting employees “work out their own problems” or participation in gossip. Change policies and train managers on how to avoid enabling a bully.
  • Set up a system that promotes healthy boundaries instead. A company culture of safety, belonging, mattering, and empowerment is ideal.

Need help preventing or addressing bullying in your company? Arch Resources Group can help. Contact us today to find out how!