The Workplace Institute in 2014 reports that 35% of the U.S. workforce is being bullied at work. Interestingly, bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job. The primary reason workplace bullying is so common is that bullying is not yet illegal. The impact of bullying to a business is costly.
Overall, it impacts an organization’s performance and success. Bullying is a serious matter that HR professionals and all levels of management need to pay attention to and understand.
We talked with Meg Matejkovic, an employment law attorney, about bullying at the workplace and what it could lead to and how management and HR can help.
What are the signs of a co-worker being a bully?
He or she will use the following forms to bully employees:
- Verbal abuse and targeted jokes
- Embarrassment and humiliation
- Aggressive behavior and interpersonal conflict
- Purposefully ignoring an employee
What happens to someone’s demeanor when he/she is being bullied?
“A victim of workplace bullying can become withdrawn, sad, argumentative, or angry,” says Matejkovic. “Workplace bullying can also have physical and mental effects on the targets of bullying, such as high blood pressure, insomnia, stress and anxiety.
Workplace bullying can also significantly affect job productivity, interpersonal interaction with colleagues and clients, as well as attendance and punctuality.
What's the difference between bullying and harassment?
Matejkovic says workplace bullying is generally not an unlawful activity. However, harassment is connected to a legally protected classification, such as gender, race, national origin, age and or disability.
What is the responsibility of HR to sustain a positive work environment?
“Proactive employers should implement and consistently enforce professionalism policies and codes of conduct, including zero tolerance for inappropriate workplace behavior,” says Matejkovic.
When HR and upper management become aware of concerning activity, they should promptly investigate and address concerns appropriately.
How can HR reinforce employees’ understanding of a positive work environment?
Having a positive and professional work environment stems from how employees are treated on a day-to-day basis because that speaks volumes for the organization’s culture.
“It’s imperative for employees to consistently enforce positive standards. Employees, managers, supervisors, and HR professionals should be trained on organizational expectations, and all of these constituents should be held responsible for behaving according to such expectations,” says Matejkovic.