Anyone in the working world knows that bullies pop up on more than just playgrounds: They also can be found in the workplace.
Workplace bullying can take various forms. Bullies may constantly criticize their peers or their subordinates, they may yell at employees in front of other colleagues or they may gossip about, pick on or ignore certain workers. Regardless of the form bullying takes, company leadership must prevent such behavior and make the workplace a safe place for all employees.
"It can be incredibly hard stand up to bullying, especially if no one else is challenging the behavior," said Cynthia Lowen, producer and writer of the documentary film Bully.
In their book, The Essential Guide to Bullying: Prevention and Intervention, Lowen and school social worker Cindy Miller offer suggestions to help employers create safe environments and prevent bullying. Their strategies include:
1. Help others understand what bullying looks like among adults. Bullying in the workplace is different from the playground shoves and name-calling observed in children. Devote a portion of time in a staff meeting to talk about appropriate and inappropriate behavior and help your team identify problem situations.
2. Establish a zero-tolerance policy. Take accusations of bullying seriously, and make it clear to colleagues that such behavior, whether from a peer or a client, won't be tolerated.
3. Train staff members on appropriate ways to handle conflict and criticism. Teach conflict-resolution skills through formal training sessions. Work with your staff to understand when negative feedback is appropriate and how to give it with respect. Confront inappropriate behavior quickly and privately.
4. Build self-confidence and capacity in employees. Competent and self-confident individuals are less likely to be bullied and more likely to ask for help when needed. Invest in workforce development to strengthen skill sets and make each employee's capacity for contribution evident.
5. Make sure you're not the bully. Many survey respondents report being bullied by their boss or another person with seniority in the organization. Review your own actions and consider if your behavior might cross the line to bullying. Ask the guidance of a trusted colleague, and seek help if needed.