How to Deal With Workplace Bullying

Posted by Preet Pall on Oct 11, 2018 10:20:47 AM

Bullying is a hot topic in today’s workplaces. More and more people are recognizing bullying as a problem, and employers want to do their part to create a safer workplace for all.

But how can you prevent bullying at work? And what can you do if it does become a problem?

In this blog, we’ll discuss how to recognize the signs of bullying, and what actions you can take to correct any issues.


What Are the Signs of Bullying in the Workplace?

Blatant bullying can't be missed. But sometimes subtle bullying requires a perceptive eye. HR professionals must be sharp observers to identify actionable behaviour—and to avoid erroneously accusing an innocent employee.

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To identify bullying, managers must closely examine the behaviour both of possible perpetrators and of possible victims.

Here are some general guidelines:

Learn How to Recognize Bullying Conduct

Any conduct, whether verbal or physical, that demeans another person is bullying. Using the "reasonable person" standard, consider whether most people would find the conduct humiliating—and whether most people would know that it would be unwelcome.

Physical harassment is generally more obvious, for example, touching and pushing. Mental harassment can be more insidious and might appear as joking, teasing, name-calling, tone of voice, and discriminatory treatment.

From your leadership stance, identify problematic behavior as quickly as possible. What is harassment versus collegial banter? You should be aware of employee interactions in the workplace.

(Related post: Loneliness and Health: How to Build a More Social Workplace)

Be Aware of Bullying Symptoms

Victims of harassment often keep silent about their situation, especially if they fear jeopardizing their jobs or reputations. But their distress might appear through physical or psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms include sleep disturbances, eating disorders, headaches, digestive ailments, and unhealthy use of drugs and alcohol. Psychological symptoms include decreased focus and productivity at work, anxiety, panic attacks, family tension, and general stress.

Look for changes in health and attitude. Bullied or harassed employees typically feel angry, frustrated, and vulnerable. Such emotions spill over and affect their work and overall health.

At worst, bullying can lead to clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and even suicide. A Danish study found that a strong correlation between exposure to workplace bullying and risk of depression.

(Related post: How Can Employers Manage Depression in the Workplace?)

3 Ways to Prevent Bullying in the Workplace

Smart employers set the tone for a non-bullying workplace. Here, we'll outline three effective ways to ensure respectful interaction among your employees.


1. Educate Employees and Managers

If you notice questionable conduct—but nothing that rises to the level of bullying—start by educating your team. People might not realize how their behaviour intimidates or embarrasses others. By cultivating a culture of respect, you'll prevent potential bullies from stepping over the line.

Education can take various forms, including sensitivity training, an online anti-bullying module during orientation, and ongoing sessions on appropriate workplace interaction.

Bear in mind the importance of follow-up training. Simply acknowledging a policy during orientation isn’t enough. It's up to management to remind employees about zero tolerance for bullying.

2. Establish Firm Anti-Bullying Policies

If bullying is occuring in your company, you must intervene by changing the rules. Ultimately, bullying can happen only if your workplace culture enables it.

Start by setting forth anti-bullying policies. Establish a code of conduct that prohibits bullying, harassment, and general disrespect. For clarity, you could explicitly list behaviours that are not permitted. Alternately, you could keep definitions more general by outlining the nature of bullying and simply stating that it is prohibited.

3. Follow Through With Set Procedures

Without enforcement, anti-bullying policies are meaningless. Therefore, you must investigate every complaint, following set procedures. By responding to complaints in a consistent way, company managers themselves can't be accused of biases.

As an essential first step, appoint an impartial investigator:

  • Internal investigator: If your company is large, an HR manager or other employee could investigate complaints.
  • External investigator: If your company is small, the involved parties might know each other too well to be impartial. You must then hire an external investigator, ideally someone familiar with your business and culture.

The investigation should be timely, well-documented, and strictly confidential. Deliver report findings and recommended actions promptly to all parties.

If discipline is recommended, consider a range of measures—and always include an educational component. Give people a chance to learn from their misconduct. Seeing someone change and grow can boost morale and guide the entire team.


As an employer, it’s essential that you take action to prevent bullying in the workplace. Create a culture of respect by implementing top-down policies around bullying and harassment. Learn how to recognize inappropriate behaviour, and know when to take remedial action.

Foster a safe environment for all, and your company will reap the benefits of better collaboration, creativity, and productivity.

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