Today’s topic references a discussion that I had posted to the LinkedIn:HR group a few months ago. The discussion asked HR professionals and employees to contribute stories of workplace bullying and also offer suggestions on how they have or would have handled it. The amount of feedback I’ve received is astounding and made me feel that it is a good subject to bring to light. This was especially true when I learned that some employees kept quiet about hostile situations that they were in. I originally chose HR as a degree because I wanted to be able to protect my employees. Hopefully, this information can bring a sense of awareness to victimized employees and help them learn what they can do to remedy this scenario.
First, I’m going to start this off with an example of workplace bullying that happened to a friend. I felt this was appropriate because a decent amount of individuals had similar stories:
My friend, Anna*, was recently working for a well known employer that had a great reputation. However, there was poor management at this particular branch. Over a course of a year, Anna would come to me extremely upset about things her manager had said to her. These things would range from criticizing her looks, talking down to her, inappropriately yelling at her (even outside of the office), and making offensive comments about her competency. I’ve worked with Anna before, so I was well aware that she was a respectable employee, a fast learner, and a self-starter. I urged Anna to talk to the Human Resources department about the hostile work environment, but she brushed it off saying she was being an emotional woman and didn’t want to rock the boat for no reason.
Within the first few months of her employment there, I started to see the bullying take a toll on her work performance and her personal life. These negative effects are also common in most cases of bullying and harassment:
• She had heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
• Insomnia from the stress ended up lowering her immune system, causing her to get sick often.
• She was absent more than normal.
• She lowered her productivity to avoid being publicly criticized in a hostile way.
• Her self-esteem hit an all time low which led to depression.
• Her husband found her to be inconsolable, which caused strain on their relationship.
After a year of this, she finally contacted the human resources department about this situation. She soon found out that several other employees were also being affected by this but were scared of losing their jobs, so they did not speak up. The HR professional stressed that Anna should have come to him sooner because they take this very seriously. Although the problem was taken care of soon after, the damage was already done. Anna and several other employees promptly left the company because they did not believe that the solution to fix the hostility issue would be permanent and did not want to deal with it if it wasn’t.
Anna’s case seemed to be very common. However, individuals also informed me of extreme cases in which the bullying led to depression that sometimes resulted in suicide. Besides the frequent or extreme cases of workplace bullying, there are also more subtle circumstances. Some examples of these are: constant criticism; regular referencing of an employee’s mistakes (especially in front of others, causing embarrassment); gossip; and even isolation.
Another important fact to keep in mind: workplace bullying also affects other employees besides the targeted individual. Because of this, workplace morale can be lowered by each situation co-workers witness. Lower morale can hinder productivity from these employees. If it isn’t handled, this can also lead to lack of trust in higher level of management. Employees could feel like their well-being is threatened. These feelings could result in high turnover.
Different HR professionals informed me of multiple ways they bring awareness to workplace bullying:
• Training for all levels employees on the subject.
• An online class that ends with a test to determine how well the employees understand.
• Emphasis on a bullying policy that is separate from their harassment policy.
• Partnership with an anonymous hot-line in which employees could call if they don’t feel comfortable directly speaking to a manager.
Employees must realize that if a manager isn’t stepping in to resolve this, it may be because they aren’t aware that it’s occurring. If you are an employee and feel like you are being bullied, be sure to keep a record of the incidences and speak to your manager or HR department as soon as possible. Your mental, physical, and emotional well-being is important. I am confident that your employer would want to keep you as healthy and happy as possible.
*Name changed for privacy.