Bullying and harassment in the workplace is often hidden in the shadows as people fear to rock the boat by complaining. But it is, sadly, far more common than we realize. Research by the Workplace Bullying Institute has found, for example, that one out of five employees in the US have suffered bullying, and almost the same number have suffered sexual harassment. What's worse, 61 percent of perpetrators are bosses, making it even harder for victims to protect themselves. Another 33 percent of bullies are co-workers. And women are twice as likely than men to be victimized.
If such toxic behavior is allowed to go unchecked, it has real and severe consequences for the victims and for the organization. According to one survey by the Educational Institute of Scotland, 46 percent of employees said that bullying has affected their performance and mental health, and 22 percent actually had to take time off work because of such abuse. Other studies have found that employers who are sued for allowing workplace harassment are likely to end up paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements and legal fees and to spend the best part of a year dealing with the lawsuit.
How can organizations put a stop to bullying and harassment, or better yet, prevent it from ever happening in the first place? One of the most effective ways is to develop and implement programs that encourage positive behavior through collaboration, open communication, and civility. Here are nine essential factors that must be covered in such programs.
1. Get the leadership involved
Healthy cultural norms originate at the top of the ladder, meaning that leaders must first demonstrate positive behavior — and avoid negative behaviors — in order to set the tone for the rest of the organization.
2. Have a clear civility policy in writing
Many of us might take it for granted that people behave civilly in the workplace. But it's always better to have things clearly spelled out, and a civility policy should at the very least include the following:
• Expectations in terms of positive behavior
• What is considered unacceptable in terms of negative behavior
• What actions the organization will take to deal with bullying and harassment
In addition, the policy will need to comply with the laws and regulations of the jurisdiction where the organization is located.
3. Train employees and managers about the relevant policies
A written policy, like any other documentation, is more of a fallback to ensure that people have something to reference. Training is still necessary to ensure that employees and their managers, know how to define and recognize the behaviors they are supposed to uphold and what they are supposed to avoid. What's more, they will need to know what to do if they are targeted or see someone else being targeted.
4. Train managers to respond to incidents
When bullying or harassment happens, not everyone will know how to react in the moment or even after it is over. Managers will need training to understand how to respond: from treating the complainant seriously and respectfully, to investigating and taking action. Just as importantly, they need to understand when the incident may have wider repercussions, such as legal implications, and how to proceed if that is the case.
5. Have a clear reporting and escalation process
In the same way that people need to know how to report fraud, the victims of bullying and harassment also need to know how to report their concerns. And once an incident is reported, there must be a clear procedure for follow-up steps, from the action taken to the timeline.
6. Establish appropriate investigative procedures
Bullying and harassment are serious matters, and should be treated as such: fairly and impartially, with investigative procedures that are set up to eliminate bias as far as possible. These procedures should also be respectful and considerate of the complainant.
7. Protect claimants
One reason why bullying and harassment are so often swept under the carpet is that victims fear retaliation, especially if the perpetrator is their boss. Throughout the process of reporting, escalation, investigation, and action taken, there must be safeguards to ensure that employees who come forward are protected against retribution.
8. Offer acceptable solutions
The final outcomes should follow the process of reporting, investigation, and action. Firstly, aimed at stopping the negative behavior; secondly; ensuring that it does not happen again; thirdly, ensuring that the organization meets its legal and ethical responsibilities in the process. The solutions—training, reassignment, or even terminating the offender—need to work for all parties involved, and it's always advisable to involve the organization's legal counsel in the process.
9. Make the consequences clear
Toxic behavior must have consequences, right down to termination if necessary: this is the bottom line that organizations must be prepared to enforce. Just as employees need to understand the positive behavior expected of them, they also need to understand that if they behave abusively despite the organization's cultural norms, written policies, training, or other measures, their actions will not be allowed to pass.
Keeping a workplace free of bullying and harassment involves continuously upholding positive cultural norms and maintaining awareness throughout the organization. From top leadership to management to employees at all levels, there is a need for ongoing emphasis and education on what constitutes a civil workplace and why it is important. These efforts can be integrated into every part of the people management process, from hiring and onboarding, to training, to the regular programs and activities that are part of employee engagement.
A civil and harassment-free workplace is modeled from the top, given structure by policies and procedures, made meaningful by education and training, and maintained by continued employee, manager, and leadership participation.
These insights are curated from "Say Goodbye to Bullying", a Skillsoft Compliance publication. Read the complete ebook here.