Workplace Bullying Behaviors: Four Ways You the Employer Can Stop It


Workplace Bullying Behaviors: Four Ways You the Employer Can Stop It

The American Psychological Association takes a deep interest in all things bullying, and in this article they review a few strategies they suggest for an organization to take to become aware of workplace bullying type behaviors and what tools might be used to stop them.

In their words, these are the strategies they suggest:

  • Foster improved communication skills. In a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pilot program, for instance, psychologists and others taught employees how to communicate more effectively. The program used a technique called Collaborative Action Inquiry. The approach encourages groups to collect data about a problem, then cycle through stages of action and reflection. After the training, employees reported less aggression and more satisfaction.
  • Teach employees to understand each other. The Ramsey County, Minn., government uses several strategies to teach employees how to avoid misunderstandings. In one exercise, for instance, small groups of co-workers rate how violent they think various behaviors are. One person might think kicking a wall is a healthy way to relieve anger, while another thinks it’s a violent act. The discussion helps employees see each other’s perspectives.
  • Identify root causes. At one VA center, for instance, the underlying problems were favoritism and union employees’ feelings that upper management wasn’t hearing their concerns. Psychologists urged the union and management to nominate a group of employees to serve on an action team to address the problems. After analyzing findings from an employee survey, the team developed a program called “Flake-off Fridays.” On Fridays, a manager invites a randomly selected group of employees to a meeting where they can ask questions, bring up concerns or just chat. A follow-up survey revealed that bullying and other aggressive behavior decreased as a result. Productivity also increased.
  • Establish a policy of respect. A policy that defines bullying is also important. Ramsey County states its anti-bullying policy on posters and in its employee manual. It’s not enough just to have a policy, however. Employers must take disciplinary action against any violations, say psychologists.


Workplace Bullying: Stopping it with Empathy, Carrots & Sticks

These strategies in their article are interesting because they cover two basic approaches to handling employees: Carrot (reward) and Stick (punishment). Points one and two, are Carrots as they focus on improving communication, and recognizing that others have their own point of view, are all about building empathy and understanding for one another. Empathy (being able to take another person’s point of view), is critical to all problem-solving and communication challenges. Kudos for taking steps to teach empathy skills to everyone.

Points three is the bridge between Carrot and Stick, that is, seeking out root causes. This involves investigation but you should handle the investigation as an inquiry, not as a search for evidence in order to punish someone.

Point four is the Stick, that is developing a policy. The policy gives you something to use when a problem arises that cannot be handled with points one, two and three. So, when empathy and exploration do not work, there’s always a policy to use to enforce disciplinary action.


Workplace Bullying can be Stopped

Do you see where your organization can improve its standing with respect in the workplace? Whether it is a problem of improving communication, building empathy, seeking the root causes of the conflict, or creating and enforcing policy, I can help you craft a customized strategy specific to your organization that is designed to help end workplace conflicts including workplace bullying behaviors.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, 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. You can contact me here.