The modern workplace has become more inclusive, often following diversity hiring practices to include people from all walks of life in their companies. However, despite the rise of inclusivity and diversity in the workplace, bullies still exist—taking on new and subtler forms.
Gone are the days of blatant aggression alone. Instead, the workplace contends with various forms of bullying, encompassing insidious behaviors such as sexual harassment, racial discrimination, power dynamics, and gender bias. These behaviors can result in unproductive and unsafe work conditions that disempower employees.
As such, you must address this issue effectively to ensure your workplace is safe for all. Knowing how to recognize a workplace bully is the first step. Our friends at Shegerian & Associates discuss how to spot them below.
How to Spot a Workplace Bully (The Behavioral Signs)
Recognizing the telltale signs of a workplace bully early on can help you address the issue proactively and foster a more harmonious workplace environment.
- Constant criticism
One red flag to watch out for is a consistent pattern of unwarranted criticism. Workplace bullies tend to belittle their colleagues, often over trivial matters. They may publicly humiliate others by nitpicking their teammate’s work and undermining their capabilities, eroding self-esteem and confidence.
- Isolation tactics
Bullies thrive on excluding their victims. They may spread rumors and gossip about others, resulting in a hostile workplace that makes employees reluctant to speak up or seek help.
- Excessive micromanagement
If the bully is a superior, they may put their victims under constant supervision—to the point of becoming unproductive and making the bullied employee lose confidence in their skills. For instance, the bully may demand unnecessary updates and closely monitor tasks. This situation creates a suffocating atmosphere of control, causing undue stress and anxiety among their targets.
- Verbal abuse
Verbal abuse is a hallmark of workplace bullying. Bullies may use derogatory language, insults, and offensive jokes to intimidate and manipulate their victims. In effect, individuals may feel unsafe and erode team cohesion.
- Sabotage of others’ work
Workplace bullies may also steal ideas from their teammates and take credit for others’ achievements. They may intentionally undermine projects to ensure their success.
What HR, Managers, and Employers Can Do About Workplace Bullies
Addressing workplace bullies requires a concerted effort from HR, managers, and employers. It is more than just conducting behavioral assessments to see the telltale signs of a workplace bully. You must also have measures to deter workplace bullies and create a safe workspace for all employees.
- Establish clear anti-bullying policies
Develop and communicate robust anti-bullying policies. These policies should define what constitutes bullying behavior and provide reporting procedures while outlining consequences for offenders. Setting clear expectations makes your employees more likely to come forward with their concerns.
- Provide comprehensive training
Train employees to recognize workplace bullying so they can become active bystanders who can help create a safe work environment. Additionally, train your managers to address complaints effectively and compassionately to ensure a swift and fair resolution process.
- Create a reporting mechanism
Encourage employees to report bullying incidents without fear of retaliation. Establish confidential reporting channels where they can safely share their experiences and practice confidentiality to assure your employees’ safety.
- Intervene swiftly
Act promptly when a bullying complaint arises and conduct thorough investigations on all relevant parties. If substantiated, take appropriate disciplinary actions to address the issue—including counseling, warnings, or more severe measures.
- Offer support to the victims
Provide ample support and resources to employees who have experienced bullying in the workplace. You can offer counseling and conflict resolution assistance. You can reassign them to a different department to protect their mental health and well-being if they request it.
- Promote a positive workplace culture
Fostering a culture of respect and inclusion is essential to creating a safe and collaborative workplace. So, encourage teamwork, diversity, and open communication. Celebrate and reward positive behavior to make an environment where bullying is less likely to thrive.
Is it Legal to Terminate a Workplace Bully?
Terminating a workplace bully is multifaceted, especially since the United States lacks specific federal laws targeting this issue. A web of legal considerations swirls around it.
Imagine a scenario where a colleague’s behavior is consistently hostile, targeting others based on protected characteristics like race, gender, or disability. In such cases, the bully’s actions may cross legal boundaries set by Title VII or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), two federal laws that oppose workplace discrimination.
The point of the matter often lies within a company’s policies. Employers often implement anti-bullying policies and codes of conduct that can prevent workplace bullies from thriving. Violations of these internal guidelines can be grounds for disciplinary actions, potentially including termination.
Take a Stand Against Workplace Bullying
Undoubtedly, today’s workplace is more inclusive and diverse than ever before. However, the battle against workplace bullies persists, becoming more challenging as it takes on new and subtler forms.
Fortunately, you can take measures to eliminate workplace bullying. Recognizing the signs and empowering employees to take a stand are the cornerstones of a bully-free workplace, fostering a culture of respect and healthy collaboration.
Though legal complexities may arise, having clear company anti-bullying policies with proactive measures can pave the way for a safer, more inclusive, and more productive future.