Workplace bullying is a growing concern in the U.S. 96 percent of American employees report having experienced work related intimidation or bullying occurring at least once in their career. Fully 89 percent reported harassing cases that had persisted for greater than one year.
One of the most common kinds of bullying reported was sabotage of the work or credibility of others. While just 4 percent indicate physical abuse, most report extreme verbal abuse and menacing threats as common elements of workplace bullying.
Such bullying invariably leads to negative productivity and is costly to the bottom line of companies. Bullying creates an uncomfortable work environment. Employees doubt their safety. They also doubt the leadership of the company. This brings about lower productivity and higher turnover. It can also lead to lawsuits if the work environment seems to “look the other way”.
While the development of an office anti-bullying plan is necessary, the process can be challenging due to both practical and legal factors to consider. For instance, how do you identify destructive intimidation from friendly teasing? The National Labor Relations Board has complicated the issue having challenged various company bullying policies, usually due to the fact that they find the language within them to be also broad.
As you examine your anti-bullying stand, watch out for these points…
- Clearly state that your firm is devoted to promoting a considerate, bully-free environment.
- Define work environment bullying as clearly as you can and include a declaration that your firm recognizes the degrees of harassing that may occur (between managers and also employees, between coworkers, between clients as well as workers, and so on).
Include a detailed list of the sorts of habits you will not tolerate under the policy.
- Define the process for reporting bullying incidents. Due to the fact that staff members could be scared of revenge, confidential reporting systems are typically preferred.
- Outline what happens to employees for violating the anti-bullying plan.
- Communicate the plan to staff members at all levels within your organization. Make sure each individual signs off that they have read and understood the policy.
- Take all reported issues of bullying and harassing seriously.
You may want to consult with an attorney specializing in workplace issues to help you form your policy and action plans to be certain they are legal and adequately address the situation.
And once you have established a solid plan, be sure to review your insurance. An EPLI policy can help protect you and your company from claims against your company and its response to reported workplace bullying.
Mental illness affects more of your workforce than you may realize. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 43.8 million U.S. adults—or approximately one in five—experiences a mental illness in a given year. For 10 million of them, the mental illness is serious enough to substantially interfere with or limit one or more of their major life activities.
While depression and anxiety disorders—including posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias—are the most common, your employees may also be dealing with other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It is estimated that serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings every year.
Most of your employees who suffer from mental illnesses will do their best to never have to tell you about them. However, it’s up to employers to be proactive and establish ways to handle employee mental health issues at work when they arise. Experts advise addressing them on a case-by-case basis using the following steps.
- Acknowledge the issue. Whether an employee comes to you directly or you notice signs and symptoms that seem to point to a possible mental illness, the first step is to acknowledge the issue and speak candidly yet sensitively with the employee.
- Gather the facts. Evaluate the effect of the mental health issue on your employee’s job performance. You should discuss this with the employee as well as his or her supervisors and managers. Consider reasonable accommodations you may be able to make to help the employee continue functioning productively.
- Learn more about the mental illness itself. Consider speaking with a healthcare provider as well as a lawyer to learn more about reasonable expectations, possible accommodations and any legal requirements associated with the particular mental health issue. Legal obligations in regards to mental health accommodations may vary from state to state. Many mental illnesses are considered disabilities and protected accordingly under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Make any necessary changes. Based on your conversations, legal obligations and what you’ve learned about the nature of the mental health issue your employee is dealing with, adjust job duties and/or expectations. Continue to check in with your employee to make sure the changes are working for them and progress is being made.
Managing mental health issues in the workplace can be challenging. In addition to the steps above, adding an employee assistance program (EAP) to your benefits package may help. EAPs are voluntary, confidential programs that benefit any employee with a personal or work-related problem—not just those suffering from mental illness. Short-term counseling and assessments can help workers deal with alcohol and substance abuse problems, stress, grief and family difficulties as well as psychological disorders. To learn more about your EAP options, contact us today.
Workplace bullying is a rather surprisingly widespread problem. According to a recent survey by VitalSmarts, a corporate training and leadership development consulting company, 96 percent of American workers have experienced workplace bullying. Among the survey respondents, 89 percent reported bullying incidents that had persisted for more than one year. Fifty-four percent had dealt with the negative actions of a coworker or manager for more than five years.
The most common types of bullying reported in the survey were sabotage of the work or reputation of others (cited by 62 percent of respondents who had experienced bullying) and browbeating, verbal intimidation and threats (52 percent). Only 4 percent of the bullied respondents had dealt with physical intimidation or threats.
Other studies have revealed similar findings. In one, more than 25 percent of the surveyed workers reported that they had experienced abusive conduct at work. In another, 64 percent stated that workplace bullying had physically hurt them, driven them to tears or had a negative effect on their work performance. It’s easy to see why; bullying certainly creates an uncomfortable work environment. This leads to lower productivity and higher turnover—and both cost employers money.
While the development of a workplace anti-bullying policy is necessary, the process can be difficult due to both practical and legal considerations. For example, how do you distinguish malicious bullying from friendly banter or teasing? The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has further complicated the matter with challenges to employer workplace bullying policies, generally because they find the language within them to be too broad.
If you’ve yet to address bullying in your workplace, you may choose to expand your existing harassment policy to include it or create a standalone policy. Whichever course you decide to take, make sure you do the following:
- State that your company is committed to promoting a respectful, bully-free workplace.
- Define workplace bullying as clearly as you can and include a statement that shows you are aware of the levels of bullying that may take place (between managers and workers, between coworkers, between clients and workers, etc.).
- Include a detailed list of the types of behavior you will not tolerate under the new policy.
- Describe the procedure for reporting bullying incidents. Because employees may be fearful of bully retaliation, consider an anonymous reporting system.
- Outline the consequences of violating the anti-bullying policy. This includes how you intend to document the disciplinary process and the types of discipline you will enforce.
- Communicate the policy to employees at all levels within your organization.
- Take all complaints of bullying seriously, regardless of whether a legally protected class of worker is involved or not.
The Society for Human Resource Management has a sample policy online that includes a relatively broad definition of workplace bullying coupled with a list of examples of bullying actions. The American Bar Association offers a similar template online as well—and this one includes instructions for reporting workplace-bullying incidents to management.
Enforcing a workplace anti-bullying policy shows you value and respect your employees and will protect their right to a pleasant workplace. For further assistance with its development, contact your benefits advisor and/or legal counsel.