I remember when I was in school and I encountered a bully for the first time. I was on the playground and saw them picking on another kid and the poor child was in tears. I got in the middle of it and helped the kid being picked on and I stayed friends with him for years after that. Fast-forward a few years, and now I help business owners and HR managers that feel like they are spending more time as a referee than they do at their jobs because of cyber harassment in the workplace.
So, I wanted to take a minute and talk about how schoolyard bullies have evolved into hiding behind computer screens, how you can recognize it, and most importantly, how you can prevent this type of harassment at your company so you can be successful and profitable.
The Evolution of the Schoolyard Bully
We all have memories of bullies we’ve encountered throughout the years. The problem withbullies is that they get older without always outgrowing that delinquent behavior. They move on to be adults, and have families, and hold jobs. You’ve probably worked with or hired at least one since you’ve been in business.
The internet, email, and social media channels have made it easier than ever before for bulliesto practice their craft. And the anonymity allows people that would otherwise be upstanding human beings devolve into bullying as well. I’m sure you’ve seen the stories in the news about children committing suicide because they are bullied by classmates on Facebook. In one case in Florida, a teen was bullied by as many as 15 of her peers.
As they move into adulthood, they learn how to hide their behavior a little more, and in the workplace, a bully can cause utter turmoil among your team without you even being aware that it’s happening.
How you can recognize workplace bullies
The easiest way to recognize bullying is tolook for patterns of behavior. When someone is harassing others, or being harassed by others, there will a series of incidents – some subtle, and others will be more obvious. Here are a few examples that are pretty common:
- Deliberate, and constant, undermining of another team member’s work or ideas. They are constantly pushing negative comments and behaviors on their co-workers.
- A manager or supervisor might purposefully make it difficult for an employee to their job. Your employee might frequently complain that they are never given clear instructions, the requirements are changing after the work has begun, or that they weren’t given the appropriate tools to do their job.
- They might withhold work from a subordinate. This makes them feel useless and like they don’t have a place at the company.
- A bully might frequently “pick at” an employee. This could involve what seems like harmless office pranks, frequent interruptions during the workday, ongoing negative comments, moving personal belongings, or even physical interactions.
- They might spread gossip, rumors, or making explicit innuendos that belittle or intimidate someone.
- If they are in a position of authority; they might use that authority to unfairly block a person’s training, opportunities for advancement, or sick leave.
A look at the numbers… it’s scary!
In a study released by VitalSmarts, they look at responses from 2,283 people and the results were shocking!
96% of respondents say that they have experienced workplace bullying. 89% of those bullies have been at it for more than a year. 54% have been bullying for more than five years. 80% of bullies affect five or more people.
Of the survey respondents, “62% saw sabotaging of others’ work or reputations,” “52% saw browbeating, threats, or intimidation,” and “4% saw physical intimidation of assault.”
And if that wasn’t bad enough… only 51% said their companies have a policy in place to stop and only 7% know of anyone that has ever used it!
why you should care about putting a stop to it
Aside from the obvious fact that bullies are bad for business and you shouldn’t allow that behavior to happen at your company, there are quite a few business reasons that directly impact your bottom line and make it very much worth your time to put measures into place to stop it.
When your company has a bully in it, you will most likely experience:
- Increased employee turnover and absenteeism. This leads to increased costs in recruiting and new employee onboarding.
- More accidents, incidents, and poor work product. People under stress just do not perform at their usual level of efficiency.
- Decreased productivity – not only from the person being bullied, but from your management team and the employee’s peers. Management will be caught up in dealing with repeated “petty” disputes, which takes them away from other duties. Peers will be less motivated to help the company succeed, and may often be found to be consoling the bullied employee.
- Poor customer service, decreased customer confidence, and a poor corporate image. Think about this one a minute – if you’re a customer, and you walk into a company and the employees are all happy and enjoy their jobs, it leaves an impression on you. The reverse is also true. If you walk into a company and everyone seems to have a bad “vibe” you don’t feel as good about working with that company.
How to stop cyber harassment in the workplace
There are many steps that you can take to put a stop to cyber harassment – and most of them are pretty easy to implement.
Start by building a company culture statement that you live by.
Put this statement in youremployee handbookand make sure that new employees are made aware of it during the hiring and onboarding process. It may sound silly, but many bullies will weed themselves out during the hiring process if your culture includes teamwork, group responsibility, and genuine concern for each other’s well-being.
Have clear definitions for what “bullying”, “harassment”, and “inappropriate behavior” mean at your company.
I fall back to the employee handbook again here. Make sure it includes very clear definitions of these terms. Make sure to specify that violations can be incurred digitally as well as through physical behavior. This ensures that your team understands that email, social media, or other virtual methods of bullying or harassment are not allowed.
Set up monitoring, and make sure your team knows it exists.
Make sure you have a system in place to monitor employee emails and internet usage. Social media can be tricky to monitor since it most likely occurs on personal accounts. If social media is not required at your company as part of their jobs, then you could consider blocking social media sites so they can’t be accessed. However, just about every smartphone has access to social media, so blocking is not fool-proof. So, it’s important to have processes for dealing with violations of your company policy, as well as if those violations occur on personal devices and not on work devices.
Define the corrective actions and reporting policies.
Outline the corrective actions that will be taken and follow them when a violator is identified. On top of this, make it clear and easy for victims or peers to report incidents of bullying. Making reporting easy can help you recognize problems early and prevent a lot of the issues we’ve talked about in this article.