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7 Ways to Ward Off the Workplace Bully

Friday, 8 February 2013

7 Ways to Ward Off the Workplace Bully

There are countless horror stories of "workplace bullying." According to The Workplace Bullying Institute ( it's defined as: repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms: 

* verbal abuse 

* offensive conduct/behaviors (including non verbal) which are threatening, humiliating or intimidating 

* work interference -- sabotage -- which prevents work from getting done. 

Workplace Bullying: (a) is driven by perpetrators' need to control the targeted individual(s) (b) is initiated by bullies who choose targets, timing, place and methods (c) escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily through coercion, and it (d) undermines legitimate business interests when bullies' personal agendas take precedence over work itself. 

The WBI-Zogby 2007 survey, the largest scientific U.S. study, found that 37% of American workers have directly experienced workplace bullying and that another 12% have witnessed it. As for the gender breakdown, women comprise most of the targets and more surprisingly, women bullies target other women. 

With statistics like these and the overwhelming evidence of the damage that it causes to the workplace what can we as leaders do to combat it?

Here are seven ways to ward off the bully in your organisation: 

1. Foster an environment of openness and honest communication. Bullies do their best work in the dark. They use hidden agendas, manipulation, and soliciting others to help them victimize their targets. By creating an environment of openness and honesty in your organisation, you leave less places for bullies to hide their dirty dealings. 

2. Ensure transparency in all departments. In conjunction with creating an environment of openness, ensure transparency in all departments. Employees that are afraid of being yelled at have been known to cook the books. Make sure you know what is going on in all departments so bullies don't stand a chance of thriving undetected. 

3. Encourage positive team meetings. This is especially important when executive meetings are held and leaders or supervisors have to report back to their direct reports. A negative meeting is likely to have a negative effect on the next meeting as it trickles down through the organisation. If negative things must be discussed during a meeting ensure that something positive is discussed at the end so attendees leave on a high note. 

4. Believe your employees. If they report a bullying incident to you, believe them. Acknowledge them for their courage in coming forward. By the time a target comes forward, they have likely been victimized a number of times. Bullies tend to intimidate their victims into believing that no one will listen to them. That's how they get their power. Assure your employee that you believe them, you are listening to their concerns, and that you WILL do something about it. And then do it!

5. Create a policy to prevent Workplace Bullying. Create a customized, internal, loophole-free policy to prevent workplace bullying. This can be a stand-alone policy or one that expands existing workplace policies. There are various resources available to help you create a policy but the resource affiliated with The Workplace Bullying Institute is Work Doctor ([]) who offer The Namie Blueprint ™ To Correct and Prevent Workplace Bullying.

6. Put a process in place for dealing with bullies. It is not enough just to have a policy in place; it must also be enforceable. It does no good if bullies aren't held accountable for their actions. Bullies allowed to run amok risk the health and well-being of everyone in the organisation. The process must include procedures for complaints, responses, and remedies and it must be applied throughout the entire organisation without exception for it to be credible and effective.

7. Provide training and education on bullying. For the policy to be effective, all employees, supervisors, and administrators must be trained and educated. Just as the policy is no good unless it is enforced; the enforceability of the policy is no good unless everyone knows their rights and responsibilities under the policy. We all know that knowledge is power. Empower your employees to combat bullying. If you want to retain good employees, you must nip Workplace Bullying in the bud. Sometimes employees don't leave for a better position, they leave to escape a bad one. By fostering a bully-free workplace, you are one step closer to keeping your most valuable asset - your employee.


Learn about Barringtons Prevention of Workplace Bullying Online Training here.

Blayne Webb, Director, Barringtons

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