What is bullying and how does it affect employee engagement at the workplace?
Bullying is something has been talked about more and more in the workplace, lately. This is because the effects of bullying on the employees involved can be devastating for the individual or group being bullied and it is destructive to the morale and employee engagement, not to mention the effect on the bottom line for the business.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety defines it as: “as acts or verbal comments that could ‘mentally’ hurt or isolate a person in the workplace. Sometimes, bullying can involve negative physical contact as well. Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behaviour that is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people. It has also been described as the assertion of power through aggression.” (http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/bullying.html)
How do you watch for signs of bullying?
You are looking for behaviour that the “reasonable person” or most people would consider unacceptable. Here is a list of subtle signs of bullying behaviour as put out by the Workplace Bullying Institute:
- “Deceit. Repeatedly lying, not telling the truth, concealing the truth, deceiving others to get one’s way, and creating false hopes with no plans to fulfill them
- Intimidation. Overt or veiled threats; fear-inducing communication and behaviour
- Ignoring. Purposefully ignoring, avoiding, or not paying attention to someone; “forgetting” to invite someone to a meeting; selectively greeting or interacting with others besides a victim
- Isolation/exclusion. Intentionally excluding someone or making them feel socially or physically isolated from a group; purposefully excluding someone from decisions, conversations, and work-related events
- Rationalization. Constantly justifying or defending behaviour or making excuses for acting in a particular manner
- Minimization. Minimizing, discounting, or failing to address someone’s legitimate concerns or feelings
- Diversion. Dodging issues, acting oblivious or playing dumb, changing the subject to distract away from the issue, cancelling meetings, and avoiding people
- Shame and guilt. Making an employee constantly feel that they are the problem, shaming them for no real wrongdoing, or making them feel inadequate and unworthy
- Undermining work. Deliberately delaying and blocking an employee’s work, progress on a project or assignment, or success; repeated betrayal; promising them projects and then giving them to others; alternating supportive and undermining behaviour
- Pitting employees against each other. Unnecessarily and deliberately pitting employees against one another to drive competition, create conflict, or establish winners and losers; encouraging employees to turn against one another
- Removal of responsibility. Removing someone’s responsibilities, changing their role, or replacing aspects of their job without cause
- Impossible or changing expectations. Setting nearly impossible expectations and work guidelines; changing those expectations to set up employees to fail
- Constant change and inconsistency. Constantly changing expectations, guidelines, and scope of assignments; constant inconsistency of word and action (e.g. not following through on things said)
- Mood swings. Frequently changing moods and emotions; sharp and sudden shifts in emotions
- Criticism. Constantly criticizing someone’s work or behaviour, usually for unwarranted reasons
- Withholding information. Intentionally withholding information from someone or giving them the wrong information
- Projection of blame. Shifting blame to others and using them as a scapegoat; not taking responsibility for problems or issues
- Taking credit. Taking or stealing credit for other people’s ideas and contributions without acknowledging them
- Seduction. Using excessive flattery and compliments to get people to trust them, lower their defences, and be more responsive to manipulative behaviour
- Creating a feeling of uselessness. Making an employee feel underused; intentionally rarely delegating or communicating with the employee about their work or progress; persistently giving employees unfavourable duties and responsibilities”
Any here are some Not-So-Subtle Signs also put out by the Workplace Bullying Institute:
- “Aggression. Yelling or shouting at an employee; exhibiting anger or aggression verbally or non-verbally (e.g. pounding a desk)
- Intrusion. Tampering with someone’s personal belongings; intruding on someone by unnecessarily lurking around their desk; stalking, spying, or pestering someone
- Coercion. Aggressively forcing or persuading someone to say or do things against their will or better judgment
- Punishment. Undeservedly punishing an employee with physical discipline, psychologically through passive aggression, or emotionally through isolation
- Belittling. Persistently disparaging someone or their opinions, ideas, work, or personal circumstances in an undeserving manner
- Embarrassment. Embarrassing, degrading, or humiliating an employee publicly in front of others
- Revenge. Acting vindictive towards someone; seeking unfair revenge when a mistake happens; retaliating against an employee
- Threats. Threatening unwarranted punishment, discipline, termination, and/or physical, emotional, or psychological abuse
- Offensive communication. Communicating offensively by using profanity, demeaning jokes, untrue rumours or gossip, or harassment
- Campaigning. Launching an overt or underhanded campaign to “oust” a person out of their job or the organization
- Blocking advancement or growth. Impeding an employee’s progression, growth, and/or advancement in the organization unfairly” (http://www.workplacebullying.org/erc/)
Some of the symptoms that a person being bullied might experience would be: anger, feelings of frustration, a sense of vulnerability and fear, loss of confidence, sleep and/or appetite, anxiety and panic, low morale and productivity, just to name a few.
No body deserves to feel like this is their place of work.
As an employer, you need to be concerned about bullying in the workplace not only for the well being of your employees but also for the bottom line and sustainability of the organization. Some of the effects it can have on a workplace include:
- “Increased absenteeism.
- Increased turnover.
- Increased stress.
- Increased costs for employee assistance programs (EAPs), recruitment, etc.
- Increased risk for accidents / incidents.
- Decreased productivity and motivation.
- Decreased morale.
- Reduced corporate image and customer confidence.
- Poor customer service.”
There is legislation on Ontario about violence and/or harassment in the workplace that requires organization to have in place a violence prevention program, policies and training in place. There is no legislation that specifically deals with bullying. It would fall under the general duty clause of the duty of an employer to protect its employees from risks in the workplace. This would include physical and mental risks. The human rights laws also prohibit harassment on the grounds of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status, family status, disability, pardoned conviction, or sexual orientation, which can be the case with some incidents.
So what can we do about it?
We can have policies and a reporting system in place, educate and train on the effects and seriousness of bullying, make sure the leaders know how to effectively handle the complaints and if necessary bring in a third party to help, make sure that the culture is one of mutual respect and learning, be aware of and deal with incidents early and effectively.