Bullies be gone: even non-victims are driven away by bullying

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Workplace bullying and harassment is a major challenge for HR, but frequently the focus is on helping the victim and handling the perpetrator. Unfortunately, just having bullying around can drive people to leave.

A study from the University of British Columbia shows nurses feel a stronger urge to change jobs if bullying occurs in their workplace, even if they are not victims themselves.

"We could predict turnover intentions as effectively either by whether someone was the direct target of bullying, or by how much an environment was characterized by bullying," said corresponding author, Marjan Houshmand. "We tend to assume that direct, personal experiences should be more influential upon employees than indirect experiences only witnessed or heard about in a second-hand fashion. Yet our study identifies a case where direct and indirect experiences have a similarly strong relationship to turnover intentions."

Workers may experience “moral indignation” on behalf of their colleagues, and see bullying as even more unfair when others are affected and they are not. Essentially, the negative fallout from bullying is much wider spread than just those directly affected – it’s contagious and needs to be dealt with promptly.

Of course it’s all very well to say you have to deal with bullying promptly and effectively, but how do you make sure you have the right processes in place?

  1. Have a workplace guide
    Some provinces include bullying in workplace safety and harassment legislation, but regardless of your legal obligation your company should have a clear bullying policy. Set out what level of conduct is expected, what is unacceptable and what consequences will follow breaking those guidelines.

     
  2. Identify the behaviour, and the bully
    Bullies rarely act up around managers, so tools such as anonymous reporting can help victims feel confident to report the attacks. Look for other signs such as individuals who dominate conversations and meetings, take credit for others’ work and sarcasm or humour that is too personal or has a cruel edge.
     
  3. Act quickly
    Show staff that your company won’t tolerate bad behaviour – don’t wait for a crisis. Talk to the bully, in a direct but not confrontational or emotional way.  Specify the behaviour that’s unacceptable.
     
  4. Have clear steps to take
    Follow your company guide in deciding what the right action is – does the bully get written up, offered counseling, lose pay or get fired?


These steps need to be consistent and appropriate to the severity of the behaviour and whether the worker is a repeat offender.

 

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