If anyone’s tempted to dismiss workplace bullying as HR-hype, share this with them: It’s a seven-figure problem, even for small companies.
A Brooklyn employer recently had to pay $4.7 million to an employee who was ultimately assaulted by a co-worker – a culminating act after repeated bullying behavior. That’s the largest award to date in a workplace bullying incident.
Despite the employer’s claims that the bully’s actions were no more than “banter” between co-workers, a court didn’t see it that way. And because supervisors did nothing to stop to the harassment, the company will have to pay the (steep) price.
Having an anti-bullying policy is more than a smart move – your state may soon require it. Currently 15 states, including New York, Massachusetts and Florida are considering legislation to protect employees from workplace bullying.
The trouble is, sometimes bullying behavior is easy to miss.
Spotting subtle bullying
Turns out, bullying is one of the more subtle and misunderstood problems facing employers. Which is why it often festers for so long.
You want to be confident that you – and you supervisors – can spot the more subtle signs there’s a bully afoot:
- Constantly criticizes – nothing is ever “right.” Some criticism can be constructive, but if there’s someone who is always nitpicking with a certain co-worker, it could be a red flag.
- Undervalues contributions. When a person constantly glosses over the value a co-worker provides, there could be something deeper afoot, and odds are good that other person is feeling devalued.
- Heaps on the work. If one employee is piling on another, he or she may be setting that other person up to fail. A sure sign of a bully.
- Withholds vital details. Similar to the work heaping, if a person fails to offer up mission-critical information to a colleague, it will be tough for that other individual to be successful.
- Blocking opportunities for advancement. Any attempts to hold someone else down can be considered bullying. So if a supervisor continually passes over someone for conference or other educational opportunities, it’s probably time to ask some questions.
Suspect you have a bully on your team?
Whether overt or a bit more subtle, if you suspect you have a bully in your midst, you’ll want to act fast.
Your best route in as a leader: Call the bullying behavior to the person’s attention.
Now for the tough part: Resist the urge to editorialize or label it.
Instead, simply identify the behaviors you’ve observed. For example: “I notice you frequently walk into your co-workers’ cubicles, lean over their shoulders and start reading their computer screens.”
Then be sure to spell out what behavior you want in the future: No entering another cubicle without being invited in, eyes off coworkers’ work, etc.