Workplace Bullying: 11 Tips on Building a Better Anti-Bullying Policy

Workplace Bullying: 11 Tips on Building a Better Anti-Bullying Policy


A few months ago I wrote a blog about lawyers’ advice for creating a workplace policy for dealing with bullying issues now. Recently, SMEweb published an article from a legal firm in England that outlined some more detailed steps that I find enormously practical. I have taken this information along with my own case study research to offer this updated list of steps I suggest to create a workplace bullying policy.


1. Use a Practical Definition

Attorney Michael Elkon suggests the definition “behavior in which an individual or group uses persistent, aggressive, or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker or subordinate.” Other suggestions include, “Does this person’s behavior go beyond the norm of what this company finds acceptable?” or “is it repeated behavior meant to harm?” Though no definition is full-proof and perfect, having a guideline in place is very useful to start examining behavior.


2. Give Examples of Behavior That Amounts to Bullying

Of course, there are the obvious examples. But other behaviors amount to bullying too. Recent research indicates the percentage of specific behaviors reported by workers as bullying. Though not definitive, these include:


  • Falsely accused of mistakes – 42 percent

  • Ignored or excluded from meetings or activities – 39 percent

  • Used different standards/policies toward me than other workers – 36 percent

  • Constantly criticized – 33 percent

  • Someone didn’t perform certain duties, which negatively impacted my work – 31 percent

  • Yelled at by boss in front of coworkers – 28 percent

  • Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings – 24 percent

  • Gossiped about – 26 percent

  • Someone stole credit for my work – 19 percent

  • Purposely excluded from projects or meetings – 18 percent

  • Picked on for personal attributes – 15 percent”

Note that none of these would be violations under existing harassment policies.


3. Provide a Reporting Procedure That Identifies to Whom Workers May Report Incidents

It’s critical that people who need to report bullying behavior have someone to report to. This implies that the one receiving the report understanding bullying issues and is qualified to take the report, handle the emotions involved and see to it that a reasonable, secure and confidential investigation can take place.


4. State How a Complaint Can Be Made in Confidence

This is absolutely essential – because fear of retaliation from superiors or mobbing co-workers can prevent someone from reporting the behavior in the first place.


5. Describe What Support Will be Available to Someone Who Makes a Complaint

This is a proactive step that will give confidence to the person reporting the behavior, as well as providing transparency of the procedure to all involved. It also legitimizes the process without assigning blame.


6. Set Out a More Detailed Procedure for Investigation

By more detailed, SMEweb suggests “compared to a grievance policy, in recognition of the sensitivity and seriousness of such complaints.” Though every organization’s investigation policy will differ, it is important that the company makes a serious, documented effort.


7. Encourage Reporting and Have a Strict “No Retaliation” Policy

Retaliation included retaliation from the alleged bully, retaliation from the person who receives the complaint, retaliation from managers, or retaliation from co-workers and anyone else who might decide to get involved and take matters into their own hands. The persons reporting the behavior must know they are safe, and that retaliation is a disciplinary offense.


8. Misuse of the Policy Will Be Considered a Disciplinary Offense

This is one of my recommendations, because I know from my own case studies that bullies misuse workplace bullying policies against their targets! Flagrant or repeated use of the policy to intimidate others should be considered a disciplinary offense. This is not a rare occurrence. People who use bully tactics are good at using policies and procedures to do their attacking for them.


9. Build in a Review Process

No policy is perfect, so build in a review of the policy and procedures process after each incident to see how effective it is at addressing complaints.


10. Have the Policy Reflect the Culture of the Organization

Tailor your policy to the values and culture of your organization so that there is an alignment between what the company stands for and what the policy states


11. Prohibit Bullying Behaviors by Everyone from the Top Down

Everyone. No exceptions. It’s not really a workplace bullying policy if the managers and boss are immune.


Having an Effective Workplace Bullying Policy is Practical and Necessary

Bullying hurts everyone, but none so more than your own organization. The harm to your bottom line in the form of turnover, loss productivity, health costs, isolation, and damage to your reputation is unacceptably high. Taking the time to form an effective workplace policy that you adhere to and enforce will go a long way to not only protecting your workers, but also your entire organization.

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I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.