Dealing with bullies in the workplace

Tags: talent management

There are many names for it: bullying, incivility, disrespect, psychological abuse and emotional harassment. No matter what it's called, the results are the same – time lost from work, unhappy employees, medical claims, legal fees, and ultimately, dissatisfied customers. The cost, both financial and in quality of life, is enormous.

Workplace bullying is on the rise, yet despite the prevalence of bullying and its damaging impact, organizational responses are spotty, at best, according to Terri Howard, vice president of corporate preparedness for the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI), the world's leader in crisis preparedness and intervention. "Organizations need better ways to identify bullying and better tools to address the problem," she said.

A recent research study from the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOHS) found 24.5 percent of surveyed companies reported incidents of bullying during the preceding year. In most incidents (55.2 percent), the victim is an employee, although customers (10.5 percent) and supervisors (7 percent) are frequently victims as well. As of 2004, an average of 33,000 employees are assaulted at work and 17 employees are murdered at work each week.

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding workplace violence prevention, in 2005: "Nearly 5 percent of the 7.1 million private industry business establishments in the United States had an incident of workplace violence within the 12 months prior to completing a new survey on workplace violence prevention. Although about a third of these establishments reported that the incident had a negative impact on their workforce, the great majority of these establishments did not change their workplace violence prevention procedures after the incident; almost 9 percent of these establishments had no program or policy addressing workplace violence."

Bullying is defined as any negative behavior that demonstrates a lack of regard for other workers, including harassment, incivility, teasing, gossiping, purposely withholding business information, overruling decisions without a rationale, sabotaging team efforts, demeaning others and verbal intimidation.

"Managers might ignore incivility in the workplace because they discount their importance as 'personal matters,'" said Howard, "but research has clearly demonstrated that when targets believe someone at work has treated them disrespectfully, half will lose work time worrying about future interactions with the instigator, and half will contemplate changing jobs to avoid a recurrence. Most will tell friends, family and colleagues about how badly they have been treated, and some targets of bullying will leave the company."

To help managers differentiate between ordinary disagreements and bullying, CPI uses five parameters: the actions 1) are pervasive and ongoing; 2) involve a power advantage; 3) lack consent of the victim; 4) involve intent to harm or control; and 5) are tolerated by the organization's culture.

Ongoing training is a vital element in establishing a culture that builds and sustains a respectful and safe workplace. Often, improving individual competencies such as conflict resolution, negotiation, dealing with difficult people, stress management, listening and coaching can curtail incivility. Expertise developed through such skills can yield additional positive impact in enhanced day-to-day dealings with coworkers and customers, as well as improved performance.

One such program addressing the problem of workplace bullying is the Crisis Prevention Institute's PrepareTraining Program. This program is a workplace protocol system which fosters a culture of respect, service and safety at work, with goals of establishing adaptable solutions to prevent and/or effectively manage disruptive or dangerous situations, strengthen and preserve valuable relationships with co-workers and customers, aid in employee retention and service recovery when problematic situations damage relations, empower employees to apply training concepts realistically, provide benefit analysis information and promote an understanding of policies and procedures.

Is your company at risk for workplace violence?
CPI has developed an audit tool to track information immediately and also over time. An audit can help companies organize their policies to promote values and clarify expectations for all employees, by using the categories of respect, service and safety. Promoting a workplace culture that conveys expectations relating to respectful interactions, quality service and safety can help prevent emergency situations that arise from incivility, aggression, and violence. This audit is available at no cost at www.preparetraining.com/.

Behavioral signals can provide awareness regarding someone's intentions. Pay attention to cues that may indicate distress or discontent. Some behavioral signals to consider and explore in preventive efforts may include:

  • Significant changes in someone's "normal" behavior or routines.
  • Sudden changes in expression, physical activity or posture.
  • Dramatic increase or change in voice volume or tone.
  • Expressions that communicate extreme anger or distress.
  • Communications of despair and hopelessness.
  • Body posture that is intimidating or threatening.
  • Verbal threats.

For more information about the PrepareTraining program (PTP) and the Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI), call 414-390-5500 or e-mail mmaas@muellercommunications.com.