HR Essentials Culture

10 Steps Businesses Can Take to Help Prevent Workplace Bullying

October 2, 2019

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 2017 study from the Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly one-quarter (23%) of bullied employees voluntarily leave their jobs in order to prevent the situation worsening.

At TriNet, we believe that the most successful workplaces are ones that have strong company 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 ten 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. 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 prevention of issues such as workplace bullying. The more engaged top-level leaders are in the company culture, the less chance toxicity will develop without their knowledge.

3. Take all reports of bullying seriously

Companies that respond professionally and immediately to allegations 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

Manager training about bullying is instrumental to eliminating bullying in the workplace for two reasons: the company communicates clearly that supervisory bullying will not be tolerated, and they typically have the greatest visibility into co-worker peer-to-peer bullying behaviors. They 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. Make managers accountable for enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, just as they are responsible for enforcing your anti-harassment policy.

5. Lead by example

A good rule of thumb is to praise in public and discipline in private. Managers set the tone for how the 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 creating a negative workplace. On the other hand, 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 classified as bullying. 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 or employee training expert about how to conduct this training.

7. ED&I actions

Building a company culture that purposefully embraces and enforces equality, diversity & inclusion (ED&I) 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. Learn more about this important aspect of bullying prevention in this TriNet blog on ED&I.

8. Be mindful of meetings

Workplace bullies may use a variety of bullying tactics and one place where bullying behavior may be readily displayed is in meetings. By creating a consistent process by which all meetings are conducted—whether those meetings be by Skype, phone or 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 gift card, 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. Your workplace anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies are always in effect. This is why great care should be taken to enforce your policy at holiday parties, team-building outings, offsite gatherings 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.

This post may contain hyperlinks to websites operated by parties other than TriNet. Such hyperlinks are provided for reference only. TriNet does not control such websites and is not responsible for their content. Inclusion of such hyperlinks on does not necessarily imply any endorsement of the material on such websites or association with their operators.

By Kelly Pacatte

Kelly Pacatte is a senior employee relations consultant with TriNet.

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