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October 19, 2001
Tips for a Bully-Free Workplace
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By LINDA TRAINOR
Contributing Editor, Best Practices in HR

Workplace bullying is a real, insidious problem for organizations throughout the world. The type, extent, and methods for dealing with workplace bullying are influenced by complex cultural biases … the company’s culture and the geographic culture as well as political and societal cultures.

Collectively, these cultural dimensions influence how you deal with the bullying issue in your organization. A one-size solution does not fit all. However, the following tips can help you begin building a bully-free workplace.

Unexpected bullying accomplices

Experts say that HR professionals and their agents can unknowingly aid and abet bullies. Dr. Gary Namie explains it this way:

"Outsiders favor personal, internal, and stable explanations for the bullying, even when looking at the Target. That means when the Target musters the courage to formally complain to HR, the HR representative typically sees the Target as somehow responsible for his/her fate, and that there must be some personality flaw in the recipient that should account for the mistreatment! Thus, helpers typically blame Targets.

Does this sound familiar? Feel free to substitute HR person with the bully’s boss, EAP counselor, Affirmative Action/EEO complaint taker, ombudsman, and others inside the organization whose job it is to help Targets. We call them Institutional Helpers."

Leveraging HR to be the catalyst for change

Experts generally agree that HR professionals are the logical change agents to reduce, if not eliminate, bullying in the workplace. They don’t always agree on the priorities or methods for dealing with workplace bullying, but there are three key HR spheres of influence that seem to be commonly agreed upon:

  • Values. An organization’s values are seen in the context of what it says and what it does. If your vision and mission statement say one thing but actual practice is different, the company’s standards are suspect and invite the bullies
    to reach for control.
  • Policies. If your policies are vague with respect to acceptable behavior (e.g., "No bullying allowed … except under these certain conditions"), everyone will interpret them to fit their particular circumstances.
  • Enforcement. If your policies stipulate that you have zero tolerance for any form of workplace bullying, but the policies are not rigorously and consistently enforced at every level in the organization, you lose.

You can’t influence all of these areas in a day. But here are some tips to help you get started.

What you can do

The most practical examples of things you can do to help reduce or eliminate bullying in your workplace include, but are not limited to:

  • Get management commitment to go bully-free
  • Identify potential aggressors (current, new, and prospective employees)
  • Look for bullying warning signs on a day-to-day basis
  • Establish clear and explicit policies about acceptable behavior
  • Enforce policies
  • Document unacceptable behavior
  • Watch for real and perceived signs of stress throughout the organization—at all levels
  • Evaluate factual data (e.g., turnover, benefit costs, recruiting and retention success, productivity, workplace illness and accidents) for signs of inappropriate behavior
  • Scrutinize illegal employment practice claims
  • Implement ongoing education, training, and communication programs, especially for supervisors and managers
  • Consult workplace behavioral experts and legal counsel for advice specific to your situation

Dr. Namie says that the bottom line is: "Good employers purge bullies … bad ones promote ‘em."

Links

 

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Best Practices in HR delivers twice-monthly executive summaries of the very best HR practices from around the country. For a Free 30 day trial click on this link or call 800 727-5257.

This article reprinted with permission by the publisher Business and Legal Reports, Copyright 2001, BLR.

 

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