Dealing with Bullies

Hershcovis and Julian Barling of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada assessed 110 studies from a 21 year period to identify the relative impact of aggression and sexual harassment on the workplace.  The major consequences linked with aggression and harassment include: level of job satisfaction, co-worker and supervisor satisfaction, job stress, intent to quit, psychological and physical well-being, anger and anxiety levels, withdrawal from work, and level of commitment.  Interestingly, when comparing sexually harassed employees with those dealing with workplace aggression from a boss or coworkers, workers dealing with workplace aggression were less satisfied with their job, less satisfaction with their supervisors, and more likely to seek other employment.  Moreover, the study found that workplace aggression causes more widespread damage to an organization than harassment (

As a leader, you need to address bullying as directly as possible.  There are three key things you can do to improve your workplace:

  • Develop a policy prohibiting bullying
  • Provide a method for employees to seek help
  • Rehabilitate or release bullies

Develop a Policy Prohibiting Bullying

Most organizations have only recently recognized the impact of workplace bullying as a threat to performance.  As views on leadership and management have changed, practitioners have realized that “old school” methods of leading that relied on fear and intimidation are less effective than engagement and environmental stability.  A clear and succinct policy on bullying is an important first step to ensuring acceptable behavior for creating an environment for stability and engagement.  The policy should define bullying, state that it is unacceptable, address the impact it has on the organization, clarify the process for identifying the unacceptable behavior, and consequences for the bully.  SHRM provides a comprehensive template that covers each of the major elements of a strong policy at:

Provide a Method for Employees to Seek Help

A key part of developing an anti-bullying policy is to provide clear directions on how to bring forth an issue when an employee is bullied.  An example best practice process includes:

  • discuss the workplace aggression with your supervisor and discuss the effect the behavior is having on you;
  • keep a log of all bullying incidents;
  • write a memo summarizing a chronology of bullying;
  • keep copies of anything that documents that impact the bullying is having on your job; and
  • report the problem to HR.

Sarah Tracy, director of the Project for Wellness and Work-Life at Arizona State University has identified eight tactics for communicating your concerns to human resources.  Her advice can be found at  Her eight tactics include:

  1. Be rational
  2. Express emotions appropriately
  3. Provide consistent details
  4. Offer a plausible story
  5. Be relevant
  6. Emphasize your own competence
  7. Show consideration for other perspectives
  8. Be specific

Rehabilitate or Release Bullies

Once bullying behavior has been substantiated, action must be taken.  A lack of action equates to endorsement of the behavior and acceptance of the productivity losses.  Although it is very hard to change ingrained behavior and even harder to alter personality characteristics, a rehabilitation effort should be made.  If the manager or leader fails to reform, then the person must be replaced.  Recent brain-scan research has shown that bullies actually receive pleasure from inflicting pain on others.  Obviously, someone that derives pleasure from tormenting those around them is not an asset to our organizations.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.