How to identify and tackle bullying in the workplace
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How to identify and tackle bullying in the workplace

30 Nov 2023

BrightHR’s Alan Price discusses how employers can spot workplace bullying and what steps they can take to put a stop to it.

When you think about bullying, the go-to mental image is usually playground shoving, teasing and using physical or mental pressure.

But when it comes to the workplace, examples of bullying can be much more underhand and subtle, making the signs harder to spot.

So, here are some handy tips to help you identify the signs and prevent and protect your workplace culture and business from bullying.

Understand what workplace bullying looks like

Lots of people experience some form of bullying in their life, whether that’s from a colleague, friend, acquaintance or even a manager.

Workplace bullying occurs if an employee is the victim of ‘repeated’ inappropriate behaviour, physical, verbal (or otherwise) that undermines their dignity.

Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Shouting or swearing at someone
  • Ignoring or deliberately excluding a person
  • Persecution through threats and instilling fear
  • Spreading malicious rumours
  • Constantly undervaluing effort
  • Dispensing disciplinary action which is totally unjustified
  • Spontaneous rages, often over trivial matters

These instances of bullying can happen right under your nose in the workplace. But it’s important to remember they can also happen outside of your watchful eye, like at work events or even online.

Online bullying between colleagues is your responsibility – particularly if your employee decides they want to raise a formal grievance. So, it’s important you get the right support.

Recognise the impact bullying can have on your workplace

The costs of bullying can be high, taking a toll on an individual’s wellbeing, ability to perform at work and can even in extreme cases lead to higher rates of absenteeism.

If someone is being bullied, they might opt to take a sick day over coming to work to face the abuse. This is especially true if the individual works closely with their perpetrator or is being bullied by their manager, which is called ‘subordinate bullying’.

More subtle examples of bullying that can occur between manager and employee include:

  • Deliberately withholding information or supplying incorrect information
  • Deliberately sabotaging or impeding work performance
  • Constantly changing targets without good reason
  • Setting an individual up to fail by imposing impossible deadlines
  • Removing areas of responsibility and imposing menial tasks
  • Blocking applications for holidays, promotions, or training

This is where having software to track these kinds of interactions comes in handy. Recording all aspects of your day-to-day HR like holiday, performance, training and administrative tasks can give you a clearer overview of team dynamics and a better chance at ruling out any potential bullying or team toxicity.

It’s important to remember there is also such a thing as ‘upward bullying’, a term coined to describe someone in a more junior role bullying their manager or a more senior member of staff.

It’s clear from this that bullying can impact any member of staff at any level, leaving you to pick up the pieces. Because of this, any training, policies or advice you give to protect your workplace from bullying must be offered to all members of staff, not just managers.

Click here to go to the BrightHR website.

Address workplace bullying

So, how should you address bullying between employees if you do spot the signs?

Well, first things first, prevention is key. Establish an anti-bullying policy, encourage reporting, address reports promptly and provide training on respectful behaviour.

All these tactics can help you make sure you’re creating a supportive and fair working environment.

Spotting the signs of workplace bullying as an employer can be tricky, especially when you have 101 other things on your mind and the signs can be so subtle.

But by addressing workplace bullying in your employee policies and by training staff on subjects like effective communication and conflict resolution, you can remove its potential to disrupt your workplace, affect your team culture and impact your retention rates.

Stay up to date with the latest employment law

In 2021, the Health and Safety Authority together with the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) developed a new code of practice on dealing with bullying complaints.

The Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Prevention and Resolution of Bullying at Work (Bullying Code) updates two existing codes of practice that both agencies had developed separately.

The Bullying Code contains useful guidance for both employers and employees around the difference between behaviour that falls under the harassment heading and behaviour that falls under the bullying heading.

Some complaints may relate to a general conflict scenario that demands a different resolution process from an allegation of bullying or harassment. It’s vital that all employee complaints are correctly classified to ensure they are managed and resolved appropriately.

Training should already be provided to employees on the prevention of discrimination and harassment. But now, it’s more important than ever to cover bullying to reduce the chance of problems leading to WRC claims.

By Alan Price

Alan Price is the CEO at BrightHR and COO at the Peninsula Group. A version of this article was previously published on the BrightHR blog.

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