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Workplace Bullies: Watch Out, HR is Coming for You!

Updated on June 18, 2013
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 18 years in the public sector.

Bullies are a workplace liability that must be taken seriously to ensure a healthy and productive workplace.
Bullies are a workplace liability that must be taken seriously to ensure a healthy and productive workplace. | Source
HR should assist managers with prevention of bullying in the workplace.
HR should assist managers with prevention of bullying in the workplace. | Source

Bullies in the Workplace Are Finally Getting the Attention They Deserve.

Bullying is a Real Phenomenon in the Workplace.

Bullying is getting a lot of attention in the media and schools these days. When a bus monitor was recorded recently being verbally abused by students on a school bus, the world got an up close and personal view of the humiliation and hurt that can be inflicted upon an innocent person just doing their job. Unfortunately, the same thing can happen very easily in any workplace. Bullying is traced back to the schoolyards, through the difficult teen years up to the tough guy in the workplace. In today's world, that tough guy could come in the way of a CEO, a crew leader or even the co-worker in the next cubicle. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. And, of course, a bully can be a man or a woman.

It is with great satisfaction, as a human resource professional, that I see bullying in the workplace getting more and more exposure these days. A problem that has been termed as working for a "mean boss" or with a "difficult person" is being examined more closely for what it actually is, bullying. While the concept, itself, is often misunderstood, employers are wise to detect and address bullying behavior in the workplace. Failing to do so can be detrimental to a safe and productive workplace.

Definition of Bullying in the Workplace

What is workplace bullying? Bullying is generally regarded as an action or verbal commentary that is directed at a coworker to make the person feel isolated or cause some sort of mental anguish. This activity is generally repeated as the bully will often target the person or sabotage work the person is performing. What is challenging for the Human Resource professional or manager investigating the situation is that sometimes the behavior is subtle and done in a manipulative manner to get a desired result. The complaining employee may describe a situation that from the outside appears to be something minor or petty. However, to the person experiencing the abuse, it has become intimidating and causing serious frustration. Unlike the schoolyard, an employee being bullied at work has to worry about losing their job for complaining, or that no one will believe them should they complain about mistreatment. Some bullied employees may be too embarrassed to bring up the issue because they do not want to appear weak or to be a "whiner" to a supervisor. Furthermore, during these tough economic times when jobs have been scarce, many employees have been forced to deal with some unpleasant behavior because there just are not a lot of employment options available to them should they decided to make a move to another job.

Examples of Workplace Bullying

Bullying in the workplace can appear in different ways. As a general rule, behavior that becomes a disruption in the workplace at the expense of others applies here. Bullying exists to harass and offend. Often, bullying exists between a supervisor (who is perceived to have power) and a subordinate (who is assigned to follow the directives of the supervisor). However you slice and dice it, it is an unwelcome behavior that can be most disruptive in a workplace.

Activities such as spreading malicious rumors or gossip, frequently changing work guidelines or rules for no reason, undermining a person's work effort, assigning unreasonable work tasks or deadlines to set an employee to fail, and yelling profanity toward the employee are all examples that have been lumped in the description of a workplace bully. Having to describe these behaviors to a supervisor or Human Resource professional can be a humiliating experience for an employee who is being intimidated by a bully in the workplace. Many will work through the bullying in hopes that it will eventually stop on its own, without outside intervention.

Address Bullying Situations in the Workplace as Soon as Possible

There are many ways to address bullies in the workplace. Preventive measures could include a policy that addresses bullying behaviors. The existing workplace harassment policy or one that addresses disciplinary measures for inappropriate behaviors could include verbiage about bullying. Check out professional human resources sites for more articles on the topic. Like any policy modification, it is always advisable to have a legal authority review your policies before implementation.

Conducting training in the workplace on workplace harassment as well as understanding how to work with different personalities would also be a supportive approach to addressing issues surrounding bullying. One on one training with a professional who can speak to such behaviors would also be a prudent move for a manager to undergo. After all, many of the bullying behaviors get tied in with discriminatory actions or motives. Federal and state laws will come into play should there be any violations. Employees have options for seeking relief from harassing behaviors. Human Resources must do its best investigate and offer solutions to any behaviors that violate policy and/or law. Holding employees who bully others accountable by way of disciplinary actions and/or termination (when appropriate) will demonstrate your organization's zero tolerance for such mistreatment.

Some Closing Thoughts...

Preventing bullying behaviors in the workplace should be a priority for employers everywhere. I have seen the effects that unchecked bullying can have on employees in the workplace. The humiliation and mental harm that is inflicted by such mistreatment can be a serious problem to these employees. Bullied employees are burdened with much mental stress, and may eventually not be able to meet expectations of the job if the abuse continues over a period of time. In this respect, bullies can cause major disruption for the operation of a work site. The Human Resources field is finally getting savvier in addressing such behavior in that more and more information is being researched and shared about workplace bullying. Having a workplace bully on the payroll can be a major liability to an organization. It is imperative that management contact their HR Department immediately if such behavior is occurring to one or more of their employees.


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      joellgoldman 4 years ago

      The bitter truth is that most guys who experience bullying in the schoolyards will experience it in the future work place also.Mostly soft people are targeted more.Tackling the bullying with the HR will solve the issues to a certain extend.But Bullying could be completely eradicated by proper training only.There are few institutes which provides training to counter bullying at workplace. Sharing the site link of such an institute below

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      Dawn 5 years ago

      Great article, very useful information

    • Onlytv Stands profile image

      Onlytv Stands 5 years ago

      Think its time that teachers had more rights and a pupil who is violent gets a crminal record instead of a telling off