Bullying in the Workplace

posted in: People, Policies 0

Bullying is a problem that has always been around but that is becoming less accepted, especially in the workplace. It is joining the ranks of harassment and discrimination as behaviors that employers need to worry about. A proactive approach to bullying protects both employees and the employer.

Bullying takes several forms, all of which need to be addressed:

  • * Verbal bullying:  slandering, ridiculing, or maligning a person or his/her family; persistent name calling which is hurtful, insulting, or humiliating; using a person as the butt of jokes, abusive and offensive remarks; falsely accusing a person of mistakes
  • * Physical bullying: pushing; shoving, kicking; poking; tripping; assault, or threat of physical assault; damage to a person’s work area or property
  • * Gesture bullying: non-verbal threatening gestures, glances which can convey threatening messages
  • * Exclusion: socially or physically excluding or disregarding a person in work-related activities

Rather than writing yet another policy defining and prohibiting yet another kind of socially-unacceptable behavior, small businesses may be better off defining the kind of behavior that they expect from their employees and then holding employees to those standards. These standards could be found in a values statement, mission statement, or employee manual.  For example, the company could make it clear that employees are expected to be courteous, helpful, and respectful at all times, and to engage in open and respectful communication with others. This kind of language sets up the positive standard against which negative behavior is judged.

(Note: If bullying is rampant in a company, definition and discussion may be the first step toward getting rid of the behavior. In this case, a full and specific policy would be better.)

Complaints can be handled the same way as discrimination or harassment complaints, if the procedure isn’t too specific, or there can be a separate mechanism for them.

Training on expected behavior is a good idea for heading off bullying and other inappropriate behavior. During orientation, discuss what “respectful” means and how it is expressed at this company; specify what kinds of language are not acceptable, for instance. Setting up the expectation that all interactions at work will be professional can reduce bullying and minimize misunderstandings based on differing perceptions of what kind of interactions are appropriate. It also provides a clear basis for discipline, if necessary.


Thanks to Betsy Webb and Dan Clark, of the MSU Local Government Center, for a great presentation.