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Have You Hired A Workplace Bully?

Published November 13, 2018 (last updated May 31, 2022) - NZ Operations Manager

Have You Hired A Workplace Bully?

When you think of workplace bullying you often picture an enraged boss yelling at cowering staff. But bullying comes in many forms, and sometimes it can be an existing employee who intimidates and threatens colleagues, customers, or even their own employer.

It is important to be mindful that bullying isn’t just repeated name calling or intimidating behaviour and bosses aren’t always the perpetrator. Bullying is a pattern of persistent and continuous mistreatment of an employee by anyone else in that organisation.

Sometimes it can be any person with enough authority to deliberately change a roster because it inconveniences a particular employee, who blames unfinished work on others, or continually overloads an employee with deadlines that are impossible to meet.

Workplace bullying can be a serious workplace issue, that erodes productivity and undermines morale. The performance and standards of previously high-performing employees can suffer. It can also lead to physical and mental health problems that increase absenteeism and hurt the overall business.

Here are some common signs that you have a workplace bully roaming your business:

Overloading Work And Setting Unrealistic Deadlines

Most employees wake up each day with the intent to work hard, please their bosses and win the respect of their colleagues. It’s this earnest mindset that bullies like to exploit by enforcing unsustainable workloads and impossible deadlines. Their goal is simple: to make it impossible for their victim to do their work. The result is an environment of extreme pressure, one where the bully can revel in their victim’s stress and inevitable failure. This is an especially effective tool that workplace bullies like to use against other employees.

Increasing Responsibility But Removing Authority

This is a particularly insidious form of bullying, made to look as though an employee is being given an opportunity to progress and upskill. It involves giving a particular employee more responsibility, perhaps even assigning them high profile projects, while secretly removing the resources and support structures that allow them to carry it out effectively. Suddenly an employee may find a huge amount of responsibility on their shoulders, with no authority or resources to make important decisions about how to allocate tasks, delegate work or seek support. It isolates the victim, leaving them struggling to complete a task they may have previously been excited to attempt.

Withholding Information

This is a classic tool of the workplace bully, designed to set their target up for failure. By withholding key pieces of information, their unsuspecting victim sets about completing their work never knowing that success is impossible. The resultant work is below standard or misses the actual brief they were supposed to meet, and the bully takes great glee in the professional repercussions that follow.

Being Unfairly Critical

Even when work is completed on time and up-to-standard, the bully will find fault with it. Often trivial and unfairly criticising the work of their target is an effective way to belittle them and undermine their confidence. To add to the humiliation, the bully might conduct their cruel critique in a public forum such as a team meeting or in a crowded office.

Personal Attacks

Sometimes bullying is more overt, and the personal life and attributes of an employee become the basis of jokes, scorn and derision. Sometimes the bully might work alone, or recruit others to their wretched cause, but the result is to humiliate and embarrass their victim and make their working lives miserable.

What You Should Do About A Workplace Bully

Employers are required to take steps to prevent or minimise the risks of bullying and harassment at work. Employers need to have a clear bullying and harassment policy in place and are advised to offer bullying and harassment training regularly so workers can understand the policy. This process creates a professional framework by which bullying can be defined, and unacceptable behaviour dealt with.

    • Introduce a Bullying and Harassment Policy and enforce a Code of Conduct that defines bullying and outlines unacceptable behaviour.
    • Monitor and review workplace stressors, such as increased work demands, changes in leadership styles, poor workplace relationships, reduced resources and lack of training.
    • Establish a confidential reporting system, that allows employees to raise any concerns without fear.
    • Ensure that bullying complaints are not ignored and that a thorough investigation is carried out to ensure all aspects of the complaint are considered before action is taken in a timely manner.
    • If possible, change the reporting lines of your business so that any bullying victims no longer report to or work with the bully. Keep this in place until the bully’s behaviour is appropriately addressed and the matter has been investigated by the employer.
    • Train and coach management on matters, including recognising signs of bullying, engaging in positive communication, managing conflict and employee behaviour in the workplace, delivering directives in a reasonable and lawful manner and making fair and effective decisions that avoid targeting certain individuals or groups of employees.
    • Introduce more robust vetting procedures during your recruitment phase. This can involve making sure the process promotes the values of the company and standards expected. Recruiting managers model the desired behaviours of the company and the interview process incorporates questions that enable you to understand the behaviours of candidates in a range of situations.
    • Reward and recognise employees who demonstrate ideal behaviours towards their colleagues, customers and work.

Dealing with bullying in the workplace is never easy, and often requires longer term cultural and behavioural changes. But with the right policies and procedures in place, you can start addressing this common workplace problem.

Need some help creating a Bullying and Harassment Policy for your workplace, or just want some advice? Give us a call for a confidential chat.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,000 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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