According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 1 in 4 employees (26%) at small businesses have felt bullied in the workplace. This should be alarming for small business owners, as workplace bullying can have very costly consequences. Not only does workplace bullying lead to low morale, increased absenteeism and high turnover (all signs of a toxic work culture), it can also set your business up for a potential lawsuit. (While workplace bullying itself isn’t illegal, it could be seen as a form of harassment in some cases.) Fortunately, there are measures you can take to stop bullying before it starts or escalates.
How to identify workplace bullying: The first steps putting an end to workplace bullying is to recognize the signs. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), signs of bullying include:
- Deliberately ignoring, isolating or excluding others.
- Discounting or diminishing other’s views or making them feel useless.
- Purposefully creating hostility and conflict among colleagues.
- Giving unreasonable or undue criticism or publicly shaming employees.
- Blaming others for their own mistakes or taking credit for other people’s work.
- Lying to employees or purposely deceiving them.
- Manipulation, such as falsely promising career progression.
Create a workplace bullying policy: Get ahead of the problem by creating a policy that addresses workplace bullying. The policy should outline exactly how you define workplace bullying (with examples), so individuals know how to spot it. Clarify the types of behavior and actions that will not be tolerated, what measures will be taken to stop it, and what employees should do if they feel they are being bullied.
Lead by example: Twelve percent of workers at small businesses have felt bullied by their boss. Take a step to consider whether you have ever displayed any of the bullying behaviors mentioned above. If you have, put an end to it immediately. When you display any behavior that is perceived as bullying, it doesn’t matter what any policy says – your employees will assume it’s okay and follow suit. Set the example by treating every employee fairly and with respect.
Create a safe space: Victims of workplace bullying are often afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation or looking weak. Staying silent, however, not only hurts the employee being bullied, but the entire workplace environment as a whole. Make it clear that if an employee feels bullied, he or she should feel comfortable coming to you, a supervisor or HR to report it. Ensure that that you will use discretion while you do everything in your power to investigate the situation and put an end to it.
Be aware: As a small business owner, you are ultimately responsible for the well-being of your employees. Make an effort to check in with employees and managers at least once a week, to gauge the feel of the workplace and learn about any issues that may be bothering employees. The more you know about the day-to-day goings on of employees, the more likely you will be to pick up on problems before they escalate.
Want to know more? Check out 4 effective ways to deal with toxic employees.