What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying refers to repeated abusive behavior that is demeaning or threatening and damages the targeted individual’s wellbeing. Some examples of workplace bullying include: 

  • Sabotaging an employee’s project 
  • Ruining a coworker’s social status
  • Intentionally spreading rumors
  • Exclusion from meetings
  • Verbal attacks

While workplace bullying can take many different forms, typically, the perpetrator aims to callously instill the targeted person with a feeling of victimhood and a sense of powerlessness. 

Why should HR leaders care about workplace bullying?

Individuals naturally think differently and have their own prejudices and perspectives, so friction between coworkers, in a way, can be expected. When tensions lead to bullying, however, it can negatively impact the work community. Workplace bullying can lead to:

  • Increased stress/depression
  • Lack of trust among employees
  • Higher levels of turnover
  • Weakened employee morale

Bullying can poison the work environment, so employees, managers, and leadership must take a stand to stop it and address it with a calculated approach. 

What can HR leaders do to prevent workplace bullying?

Micromanaging people is ineffective, mediation can often exacerbate the situation, and inaction allows the bullying to continue. So what should HR leaders do to address workplace bullying? Here are some steps HR leaders can take:

  • Nurture a healthy work culture. While a healthy work culture cannot prevent bullying, it can decrease it. Within a culture that values psychological safety, people feel more confident to take risks, share ideas, and confront unethical conduct. Maintaining a work environment that values freedom, autonomy, different ideas, and people’s wellbeing provides fertile ground for mutual respect and empathy.  
  • Write and enforce an effective policy. While harassment is illegal, bullying, technically, is not. Bullying is a broad category and often challenging to identify. HR leaders can therefore include a comprehensive policy in the employee handbook that defines a healthy workplace and outlines acceptable behavior and the consequences of abusive conduct.  
  • Provide coaching to empower people. Improving soft skills can help people build resilience in the workplace. Clinical psychologist and bullying specialist Izzy Kalman points out that empowering targeted individuals with the tools to cope is the key to overcoming bullying. Thoughtfully designed training sessions can offer a fun and meaningful way to develop resilience and emotional intelligence so people can independently diffuse confrontations at work.

Why should bullying prevention be part of a modern HR strategy?

Workplace bullying does not just affect the bully and the targeted person—but also the psychological safety of all employees. Thus, implementing an evidence-based method to counteract bullying into the HR strategy is crucial. Rather than addressing bullying ad-hoc, HR leaders should determine their stance toward bullying in advance. Implementing a bullying prevention strategy will enable HR leaders and employees to respond to conflict successfully, so they can overcome it rather than feed the fire.