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A guide for managers dealing with workplace bullying

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Kerrie-Anne Chinn, Content & Editorial Manager
2016-12-14

The Productivity Commission recently reported that more than two million Australians have experienced some form of workplace bullying – a staggering figure when you think about the damaging effects this behaviour can have on each individual life.

In a previous article, we discussed how bullying impacts your business, affecting your staff’s morale, productivity and work performance, as well as your organisation’s overall work culture. It also has significant financial consequences for companies, with bullying costing the Australian economy an estimated 15 billion dollars annually.

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So what can we do to stop bullying occurring in our own organisations? What are the best ways for employers and managers to deal with workplace bullies?

If you’re in a leadership or management role, you need to be equipped with proper strategies to identify, manage and prevent this toxic behaviour. Here are 5 ways to deal with bullying in your team.

Know How to Recognise Bullying

Whatever form it takes, bullying is a type of abuse – a way of intimidating and dominating others, through physical, emotional or psychological control.

It may take the form of continual snide comments about a colleague, putting someone down whenever they pitch ideas to the team, or outright hostility towards another team member. Bullies might also make a point of excluding certain people from team conversations, meetings or project work.

Workplace bullies will often use nonverbal tactics or subtle humiliation instead of direct threats. They can be very good at making sure their behaviour doesn’t cross over into direct physical or sexual harassment, while still making their victims feel continually excluded, uncomfortable and anxious.

Don’t Enable or Tolerate Bullies in Your Team 

Unfortunately, bullies often get away with their behaviour simply because no one can stand dealing with them. These negative personalities tend to thrive on conflict and drama, but for anyone who dislikes confrontation, standing up to a bully can feel very uncomfortable and intimidating – even scary.

Because of this, some managers will choose to turn a blind eye, unwilling to deal with the disruptive person in their team. However, overlooking or tolerating bad behaviour is sending a message that it’s accepted and even enabled in your organisation.

As a manager, you have a responsibility to address workplace bullying, making it clear that a respectful collaborative environment is to be adhered to at all times. Stop bullies from constantly interrupting others or being aggressive; pull them up when they mock someone else’s ideas or suggestions; work hard to build an inclusive work environment.

Control Your Own Response to Workplace Bullying

If you’ve become aware of bullying going on in your team or organisation, it’s important to make sure you respond in an appropriate and rational way. Accept that you can’t control what bullies do or say, but you can control your own response.

Recognising that you are in control of how you respond will help you to detach your emotions and manage the situation in a more effective way. Besides, showing emotions such as anger or disgust will only be giving the bully what they want – a reaction and opportunity for further conflict. 

Act on All Reports and Complaints of Harassment

Taking workplace bullying seriously means acting on any report or complaint that is raised in your team. This will make it clear that your organisation has zero tolerance for any form of bullying or harassment. 

If someone tells you they’ve been made to feel uncomfortable by another employee, don’t make excuses for bad behaviour or laugh off inappropriate actions as “just a joke” – treat every report with the diligence it deserves.

Make Sure You Have an Anti-Bullying Policy in Place

Develop and implement a strong bullying and harassment policy, to show your commitment to providing a safe and productive environment for your employees, while promoting a positive work culture for all. This policy will also ensure your organisation is compliant in this area.

Need More Information or Help?

  • Bullying in the Workplace covers useful information about the most common forms of bullying in the workplace and the costs this has for both victims and organisations. You’ll also learn practical strategies for dealing with workplace bullies.
  • Workplace Harassment for Managers explores the negative impact bullying and harassment can have on an organization’s work environment and looks at the role of managers in preventing and responding to all forms of workplace harassment.
  • Bullying: The Manager’s Role further explores the role of managers in preventing bullying and abusive conduct in the workplace.
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