HR Essentials | Culture | People Matter

It’s Anti-Bullying Month: 10 Tips to Help Prevent Bullying in the Workplace

October 17, 2022 · 7 min read

Lead HR Compliance Consultant, TriNet

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and the perfect time to assess your company’s anti-bullying prevention methods. Bullying in the workplace is a serious issue that has very real personal and business consequences. According to a 2021 study from the Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly 30% of adults have direct experience being bullied in the workplace. And if you think the large shift to a remote work environment has eased workplace bullying, the same study also found that virtual work poses even greater threat, with 42% of working adults saying they have direct experience being bullied at work. So, what is workplace bullying? It often involves repeated harassing behavior from coworkers or even management, such as insults, threats, or demeaning comments. More subtle forms of bullying could include withholding work-related information, providing unclear instructions, or making unnecessary requests.

At TriNet, we believe that the most successful workplaces are ones that have strong organizational cultures and are compliant with employment-related laws and regulations. Neither of these ends can be accomplished in an environment where harassment of any sort—including bullying—is tolerated.

Here are 10 action items your company can take, starting this month, to lay the foundation of zero tolerance for bullying.

1. Create a formal anti-bullying policy

This could be an addendum to your anti-harassment policy or a stand-alone to accompany your anti-harassment policy. At any rate, your anti-bullying policy should describe what constitutes bullying and should communicate to your employees that this behavior will not be tolerated. Your policy should assure employees that allegations of bullying in the workplace will be promptly and thoroughly investigated with action taken as appropriate--up to and including termination of the perpetrator’s employment. Complaint procedures should be clear so that employees and managers understand expectations and the process that will result in case of an incident. Be sure that your policy is drafted in compliance with any applicable federal, state and local laws. Your HR services provider can help you draft your policy.

2. Establish an open-door policy

An open-door policy is great for myriad reasons that contribute to an inclusive company culture. It can be instrumental in helping company leaders learn more about their business and their team so they can continue to address both opportunities for improvement—such as a chance to offer benefits that appeal to their employees—and burgeoning issues, such as workplace bullying. The more engaged top-level leaders are in the company culture, the less chance toxicity has to develop without their knowledge.

3. Take all reports of bullying seriously

Companies that assign a high level of immediacy to investigating claims of workplace bullying are likely to find that their employees are more comfortable reporting bullying incidents. Of course, the more bullying is reported, investigated and, ideally, eliminated, the less bullying you’ll have to contend with in the future. Not only is investigating bullying good for company culture, morale and business success, it can help your company maintain compliance with anti-harassment laws and regulations.

4. Hold managers accountable

Managers are instrumental to eliminating bullying in the workplace because they may have the most opportunity to witness this behavior and are often the first line when a victim or witness reports bullying. Teach managers to identify the signs of bullying and to respond appropriately to bullying concerns, and in fact bullying prevention training is required in certain jurisdictions. Make managers accountable for enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, just as they should be responsible for enforcing your anti-harassment policy.

5. Lead by example

A good general rule is to praise in public and discipline in private. As a manager, you set the tone for how your team operates. While discipline and other constructive feedback may be necessary from time to time, it should never be delivered in a public setting where it could be construed as bullying or create a negative workplace. However, praising your team members for a job well done—and making sure the praise is doled out fairly with the accomplishments—can really help lay the foundation for a positive office and a feeling of camaraderie among your employees.

6. Train team members to recognize and report bullying

This training should teach them to recognize it in themselves as well as others. Some people may not realize that their behavior can actually be considered to be bullying by others or according to law. Also, individual team members are often witnesses to bullying, whether or not it’s directed at them, and should be also trained to recognize and report on these instances. Talk to an HR professional about how to conduct this training and if bullying prevention training is required in your employee locations.

7. Work on your company’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives

Building a company culture that purposefully embraces and enforces Diversity, Equity and Inclusion can contribute to an enduring company where people are excited to come to work, helps maintain compliance with employer-related laws and regulations, and can help curb all forms of harassment, including workplace bullying.

8. Be mindful of meetings

The Workplace Bullying Institute study mentioned in the first paragraph found that bullying during remote work happens most in virtual meetings. This means that meetings can be a hotbed for workplace bullies. By creating a consistent process by which all meetings are conducted—whether those meetings be online, by phone or even in-person—and enforcing some rules of conduct, you can make meetings a more equitable experience. Some ideas that can help take the mayhem out of meetings include allowing everyone an opportunity to speak, using only positive reinforcement, avoiding chastising or criticizing during meetings and asking people to save any disagreements that come up for discussing offline.

9. Acknowledge kindness

When developing a plan to address workplace harassment, it can be easy to get bogged down in preventing the behaviors we DON’T want that we may overlook building the type of culture we DO want. The latter can also be effective to curbing all sorts of toxic workplace issues, including bullying. In this vein, you may want to consider developing a reward system for employees who go above and beyond to help out their colleagues, show exemplary teamwork or exhibit any other trait that feeds into the type of work environment you want to cultivate. This can be done through employee and/or manager nominations and can be on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and/or even annual basis. The reward can be anything from a handwritten note to lunch to a public acknowledgement of a job well done.

10. Bullying behavior doesn’t stop when the workday does

Lastly, it’s important to remember that appropriate, professional behavior between colleagues or between employees and managers doesn’t stop at 5 p.m., and isn’t limited to conduct between your employees. Your workplace anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies are always in effect and should also cover conduct by or against others outside of your company. This is why great care should be taken to enforce your policy at holiday parties, team-building outings, offsite gatherings, interactions with company clients and customers and any other company-sanctioned event.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

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