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Workplace bullying can have serious consequences for the employees involved as well as a company's culture. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), slightly more than half of organizations surveyed reported that they had experienced an incident of workplace bullying within their company. These companies reported serious effects including decreased morale, lower levels of trust, and employee stress and depression. There can also be legal risks associated with workforce bullying in certain situations.

Here's a closer look at how business leaders can address and prevent bullying in the workplace.

What is Workplace Bullying?

Conflicts can happen in the workplace; having open lines of communication and clear processes to resolve them is essential. But when does conflict become bullying? Bullying can occur when employees are harassed or intimidated, when the situation interferes with someone's ability to complete their job, or in cases of verbal or physical abuse. Often, the target experiences consequences as a result of the bullying if it's not addressed: stress or health-related impact, diminished status within the organization, and long-lasting economic, financial and career-related issues.

Making the Business Case for the Seriousness of Workplace Bullying

One of the biggest challenges of dealing with workplace bullying is the stigma associated with it. Victims may be afraid to come forward, and employers may not be certain of how to address a bullying case when it arises. When bullying rises to the level of unlawful harassment, it can even lead to legal consequences. In addition, employee attrition connected with bullying – as well as the potential for lost productivity while dealing with incidents – can negatively impact a company’s bottom line. There's also the risk of harm to a company's brand and reputation among employees and in the talent market. In the end, businesses can't afford to dismiss bullying.

Creating the Opportunity for Employees to Come Forward

Employees experiencing bullying may be unwilling to come forward; many fear making the situation worse or even putting their jobs at risk. It's important that companies have mechanisms for reporting incidents. Staff should be encouraged to talk to their supervisor, HR rep or any member of management.

Workplace bullying is a serious concern, and it can have devastating consequences for employees and businesses alike. Educate your staff on bullying, and take steps to prevent it through a clear, written non-harassment policy. Take accusations of bullying seriously, and if you're facing a complicated employee situation, consider consulting a knowledgeable HR partner or labor and employment attorney for further advice.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer Benz

Jennifer Benz, PHR, is an HR Consultant with Paychex, where she has worked since 2005. Her professional practice is concentrated on HR, and she works with small and medium-sized businesses.

HR Consultant , Paychex
woman yelling at man