Workplace Bullying: A Step-by-step Guide For HR

Workplace Bullying: A Step-by-step Guide For HR

Workplace bullying is an unfortunate phenomenon that can occur in any organization. It can take many forms, from verbal abuse and intimidation to more subtle behaviors like withholding information or giving employees impossible tasks.

Regardless of the specific tactics used, workplace bullying can create a hostile work environment and cause serious psychological damage to victims. It can have a serious impact on employee wellbeing, which is a key part of any firm’s success.

While it’s difficult to completely prevent workplace bullying from happening, there are steps that HR can take to address the issue if it does occur.

In this article, we’ll go over what workplace bullying is, some of the warning signs to look out for, and how to handle a bullying situation effectively.

How can HR identify workplace bullying?

Although hard to spot unless the victim comes forward of their own accord, there are a few key ways that HR can identify workplace bullying in the workplace:

  • Employees who suddenly have a high number of absences or are constantly coming in late. This is a classic tell-tale sign of employees struggling in the workplace with workplace bullying. If employees are too scared to come into work, it’s a big red flag that something is going on.
  • A sudden decrease in productivity or quality of work. If employees are suddenly struggling to meet deadlines or their work quality has decreased, this could be a sign that they’re being bullied at work. They may feel stressed over the bullying that they are being exposed to, and can therefore struggle to complete their work.
a person suffering from workplace bullying sitting on the floor behind a sofa
  • Employees who are unusually quiet or withdrawn. If employees who used to be chatty and outgoing are suddenly withdrawn and quiet, it could be a sign that they’re being bullied. Their morale may have dropped significantly due to the bullying, and they may find solace in being isolated and alone from their remaining colleagues.
  • An increase in complaints from employees about their co-workers. If you start receiving more complaints than usual from employees about their co-workers, it’s worth investigating to see if there’s a bullying problem. This is an obvious sign of workplace bullying: if there are complaints, then there is likely to be substance to those complaints.

What are the typical ways employees can be bullied?

Bullying can come in a number of forms — all the way from something as simple as isolation, to more severe forms of bullying such as physical abuse (although these cases are much rarer).

It is vital that we understand the most common ways employees are bullied so that we know what we are looking for when in the workplace.

​​1. Isolation

This is a common form of workplace bullying. It occurs when an individual is deliberately excluded from work-related activities or information. This can make the person feel isolated, left out, and devalued.

Not only is this form of bullying very harmful, but it is one that can easily slip through the cracks and not be noticed until it is too late. It isn’t an explicit type of bullying, and is instead one that is very hard to spot.

2. Verbal abuse

Verbal abuse is another form of workplace bullying. It can involve name-calling, insults, put-downs, or intimidation. This type of behavior can make the victim feel belittled, humiliated, and powerless.

This is typically much easier to spot as it involves an action performed by the bully.

3. Physical abuse

Physical abuse is any type of physical aggression or violence towards another person. This can include hitting, shoving, kicking, or any other type of physical contact that causes harm.

Although a more rare form of workplace bullying due to its obvious nature, it can occur in some workplaces.

4. Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome or unwanted sexual advances or conduct, including lewd comments, sexual propositions, or inappropriate touching. Sexual harassment can make the victim feel humiliated and degraded.

This type of bullying can be difficult to spot and can sometimes be passed off as a ‘joke’ by the bully. It requires a keen eye to spot instances of sexual harassment.

5. Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is talked about a lot in schools — but did you know that it can also take place at work? It might include sending messages that amount to bullying over social platforms. Unfortunately, online harassment is a common type of bullying due to the prominence of technology today.

Cyberbullying can be relentless as it doesn’t stop after you finish work. It is important to be wary and keep tabs on employees to manage this type of bullying.

a line of people holding their phones

5 ways HR can best deal with workplace bullying

Now that we have covered how HR can identify the signs of workplace bullying, and the typical ways employees can be bullied, let’s cover the real-life ways HR can best deal with the situation.

1. Keep an open door policy

One of the best ways to prevent workplace bullying is to have an open door policy, where employees feel comfortable coming to HR with any concerns they may have.

Employees can encounter a number of issues — ranging from verbal bullying all the way to sexual harassment. Regardless of the seriousness of the issue, employees should be confident in coming to HR.

2. Train managers on how to deal with bullying

Another key way to prevent workplace bullying is to train managers on how to deal with the issue. This includes identifying signs of bullying, as well as knowing how to have a conversation with an employee who may be behaving in a way that’s considered bullying.

This can be done via e-learning modules or mandatory in-person training sessions so that managers are aware of the steps they can take when confronted with bullying.

3. Create an anti-bullying policy

It’s also important for HR to create a policy that specifically addresses workplace bullying. An effective anti-bullying policy outlines what constitutes as bullying, as well as the consequences for employees who engage in this behavior.

Having a mission statement that encapsulates the firm’s attitude to bullying and outlines the firms culture is another way to highlight the firm’s anti-bullying stance.

five people sitting around a table while looking at a presentation on workplace bullying on a monitor

4. Investigate all reports of bullying

If an employee does come to HR with a complaint of workplace bullying, it’s important to investigate the matter fully — whether it be talking to witnesses or reviewing any relevant documentation.

Under no circumstances should an employee seeking help ever be brushed away. It is key to the success of the firm that employees worries are acknowledged and acted upon.

5. Take appropriate action

Based on the findings of the investigation, HR will then take appropriate action. This could involve anything from counseling for the employee who was bullying, to termination if the behavior is unacceptable and beyond repair.

Effects of workplace bullying

The negative ramifications of workplace bullying can be vast. It’s important we understand them so that we are able to take the correct amount of action to prevent something like bullying from occurring in the workplace.

Lowered morale among employees

When workplace bullying occurs, it can have a negative impact on the morale of all employees. Witnessing or experiencing bullying can make people feel unsafe, anxious, and stressed. It can be a traumatic experience for not only the victim, but those around the victim who are aware of what is going on — and feel helpless.

Decreased productivity

Bullying can also lead to decreased productivity among employees. This can occur in situations where workers who are being bullied may be too distracted or stressed to work effectively.

Additionally, workplace bullying can create a general feeling of unease among employees, which can lead to a decrease in productivity overall.

eyeglasses on top of a notepad beside crumpled pieces of paper

Increased absenteeism

Employees who are being bullied may start to take more sick days or leave work early more often. They may feel too anxious or stressed to come into work, or they may fear retaliation from the person who is bullying them — leading them to skip work regularly.

Higher turnover rates

Workplace bullying often leads to higher turnover rates, as employees may decide to leave the organization altogether in order to escape the bullying.

Furthermore, employees who witness bullying may also decide to leave in order to avoid being a part of such a negative environment.

Legal implications

In some cases, workplace bullying can also lead to legal implications. This is because bullying may be considered a form of harassment, discrimination, or even violence.

If an employee decides to take legal action against the organization, this can lead to costly settlements or judgments.

The reputational damage inflicted on the firm can be severe, with the firm being known for its toxic work culture. The firm can struggle to hire the best candidates due to its poor reputation, leading to the quality of the firm’s work declining steadily over time.

Final thoughts

Workplace bullying can put a real dampener on your firm and its employees. It can be extremely harmful to a firms environment, and lead to employees being scared, anxious and unproductive in their work lives. In this day and age with the rise of cyberbullying, employees are not even safe at home if their bullies decide to go digital.

It is important for HR to know the signs and effects of workplace bullying, so they can recognize it as and when it occurs. Then HR has to follow the process and take the required steps in order to rectify the bullying situation.

Have a browse at the guide above to deal with workplace bullying accordingly. Your employees wellbeing is important, so let’s deal with these situations as best we can!