If you thought you outgrew bullying when you left the playground, think again -- workplace bullies are nearly as commonplace as playground bullies and just as destructive. While many human resources (HR) departments have been slow to address the problem of workplace bullying, some organizations are dealing with bullies proactively, focusing on prevention and reporting.
A Real Problem
HR departments hoping that the workplace bullying problem will just go away are deluding themselves. Because of growing concerns in employment liability, "Insurance Journal" cited a 2011 Society for Human Resource Management study that found half the respondents interviewed reported instances of bullying in their workplace. The same study found that around a quarter of HR professionals reported being bullied.
Bad Economy = Bullying
One of the most disturbing trends in workplace bullying is the effect that a bad economy can have on hostile work environments. When jobs are scarce, employees often feel the strain of increased workloads, fewer fellow employees, and almost nonexistent opportunities to leave an uncomfortable employment situation for a better workplace. It's an environment where workplace bullying flourishes, and HR departments are beginning to take notice.
State government employers, almost always in the vanguard of workplace policy-making, have made the largest inroads into proactively dealing with workplace bullying. More than a dozen U.S. states have debated antibullying laws in the recent past that would protect employees against hostile or abusive working environments, while many have gone a step further and adopted policies prohibiting workplace bullying in state governmental agencies. Not surprisingly, many U.S. state colleges and universities and public schools, most of which already have antibullying policies for students, have adopted policies that protect employees as well.
These early adopters of antibullying HR policies have, for the most part, attempted to define bullying behaviors, create ways for employees to report these behaviors, and come up with solutions for responding to reports. Defining bullying may be the most difficult part of the equation when HR departments work to create antibullying policy. Some of the most frequent behaviors cited include using abusive or offensive language, actions that frighten, degrade or belittle others, teasing or practical joking, physical assault or threatening actions. When the bully is the boss, most policies define bullying as making unreasonable demands, assigning work that is beyond an employee's skill level, or deliberately isolating and singling an employee out for unfair treatment. While some HR policies are "zero-tolerance" policies, which make bullying an offense subject to firing, others allow for bullying incidents to be evaluated for seriousness of the offense and possibly dealt with in a disciplinary fashion.
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