According to a 2021 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), about 79.3 million workers in the United States have been affected by workplace bullying. The WBI estimates that about 48.6 million Americans are bullied in the workplace, and this includes small businesses. If you are a small-business owner who is alarmed by this figure, you may want to find ways to stop bullying at your workplace.
Workplace bullying leads to low morale at work, increased absenteeism from work, and higher turnover. In some cases, bullying is viewed as a type of harassment. If you can stop workplace bullying and prevent toxic employees, you can secure the safety and well-being of your employees.
Identify workplace bullying
If you want to stop bullying at your small business, you first need to identify instances of bullying. Signs of workplace bullying may include:
- Isolating or excluding specific employees
- Constantly criticizing a co-worker
- Undermining an employee's work
- Manipulating the role of an employee to include unreasonable tasks
- Minimizing the feelings of an employee
- Communicating in an offensive or belittling manner
- Deceiving or lying to an employee
- Making frequent passive-aggressive statements
Keep in mind that employers and supervisors can also participate in bullying. For example, an employer may relentlessly criticize one employee in particular, or perhaps a manager frequently excludes one employee from projects or rewards.
When you can spot the signs of bullying, you have a better idea of which problems may impact your small business. Creating a clear definition of workplace bullying helps you establish clear boundaries with your employees.
"Creating a clear definition of workplace bullying helps you establish clear boundaries with your employees."
Create a workplace bullying policy
Even if you do not see the signs of workplace bullying at your business, you should create a policy that addresses this issue. You can be proactive by creating a clear policy that outlines your definition of workplace bullying. Include examples of bullying and discuss the measures you will take to stop bullying. You should also tell employees what they can do if they feel bullied at work.
Your policy should not only address what bullying is, but also how you will handle instances of bullying. You can include the disciplinary action you plan to take and at what point you will step in. This establishes clear guidelines for all employees.
Train managers and supervisors
You may find it useful to develop a management strategy for your small business as well. When you train strong managers, you can prevent weak or inexperienced managers from using fear as a tactic in the workplace. Management training can reduce supervision by fear or intimidation. When you establish clear expectations, you can direct the leadership of your business in a positive direction.
Set the example for employees
As a leader, you can set an example for employees. Don't participate in bullying, and carefully consider your role in any activities that could be construed as bullying. Even if you have a policy meant to end bullying, employees will follow your lead. If you take a social stance against bullying, your employees may be less likely to participate in these activities too.
Failure to set a good example for employees could lead to a toxic workplace. In a toxic workplace, employees are not given clear direction, lack recognition for a job well done, and are intimidated or bullied. Toxic workplaces lack transparency and communication, and they experience higher employee turnover rates.
Create a safe environment for employees to talk
One of the biggest challenges you may face when you try to stop workplace bullying is that employees may not come forward. Some employees may fear retaliation, while others may be worried that they will look weak. Unfortunately, silence perpetuates bullying. You can remedy this situation by creating a comfortable space for your employees to talk about sensitive issues like bullying. Keep in mind that not all employees who come forward to talk will be victims of bullying. Some may have witnessed it.
This comfortable space should be a place that is out of earshot of other employees. You should offer complete privacy for employees who want to talk about bullying, harassment, and other serious topics. Make it clear that you have an open-door policy for employee issues.
Document all instances of workplace bullying
You should also make it clear that you will document instances of bullying. Documentation is a good thing for your business. For one, it notes all instances of bullying so that those in leadership can note the intensity of bullying. You'll create a paper trail that gives you or your HR team the ability to use specific evidence when you discuss bullying incidents with the involved parties. Documenting each incident also shows your employees that you are taking their concerns seriously.
In order to ensure that each employee feels comfortable documenting bullying, you may want to implement a policy to prevent retaliation. This policy should protect your employees from retaliation by managers and other employees. When your company implements this policy, it protects the bullied party and your company's culture.
One of the biggest reasons why so many instances of workplace bullying go unchecked is that business owners and supervisors are not aware of what is happening. Check in with employees and managers periodically to discuss issues at work. When you are more familiar with day-to-day events in the workplace, you'll pick up on more details.
You can stop workplace bullying in your small business, but you first have to acknowledge it. The steps you take to address bullying now can establish a healthy company culture.
Related reading: creating a peaceful workplace
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