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How to deal with bullying and harassment in the workplace


Working in a toxic atmosphere or being a victim of bullying can be scary for some people and have a terrible effect on their health.

In the workplace, the simple fact is not everyone gets on.

If you work in a large team, there will be people you like more than others.

However, in an excellent professional environment, workers put aside their differences and combine their skills for the good of the company – and everyone around them. 

In a bad work environment, someone might cross the line.

Red flags can be if your colleagues infiltrate your personal space, start spreading rumors about you, or engage in other forms of harassment.

The best advice is to ignore the situation, complete the task, and leave for the day. 

But if the abuse persists, you must defend your rights and stop the harassment.

READ MORE: How To Boost Staff Productivity

Speak to your colleagues

If the workplace behavior feels out of control, try speaking with your co-workers about it directly. 

Someone could have misinterpreted something you said or did.

The harassment may stop if you discuss your concerns with your co-workers.

Escalate the situation

The next step is to speak with your manager or supervisor about the situation if talking about it has failed.

Tell them what happened, giving specific examples of the behaviour in the workplace you are experiencing, and be sure to let them know you tried to solve it but without success.

It should now be up to your supervisor to decide how to handle your co-worker since you have completed your part of the task.

Be ready for the possibility that they will merely receive a written warning and continue working.

If the abusive behavior is severe enough, the perpetrator might get sacked.

Be aware your co-workers, especially if the person is well-liked, might hit back against you.

Sometimes it’s just simpler to move to a different department within your firm or to quit your job altogether than to handle a situation involving workplace abuse.

If you are a determined and strong person, you might be able to stand your ground against workplace harassment.

However, if the abuse is too emotionally taxing to handle, there’s no shame in getting out of there and starting over.

The term “bullying” tends to conjure up images of the schoolyard and classroom. 

In the modern era, we might also think of cyberbullying on social networking sites when we think of children and young people sending each other vile abuse.

Few people would immediately think of workplace bullying, adults disparaging other adults, or carrying out psychological abuse.

Workplace harassment comes in different forms

Workplace harassment comes in different forms, none of which are acceptable, and all of which can seriously harm the victim’s mental and emotional health.

A person’s behavior may begin with teasing or making fun of a specific characteristic of their appearance or personality.

A manager may consistently critique your work or assign you impossible deadlines and workloads.

At work, severe forms of harassment include verbally and physically abusing someone, publicly humiliating them in front of their co-workers, and sending harassing emails.

People who an office bully has victimized may experience intense stress, anxiety, and panic levels.

They may experience depression, and bullying’s after-effects frequently cause victims to quit their jobs permanently or for an extended period.

Victims of workplace bullying sometimes resort to self-harm as a coping strategy or even end their lives.

The people who harass others at work are frequently in senior positions with managerial or supervisory responsibilities.

They believe their position enables them to lord it over their staff, but this inflated sense of themselves can turn into bullying. 

That is not to say all supervisors and managers are bullies.

A bully may not even hold a senior position but use devious tactics to turn their colleagues against a particular team member. 

However, the victim may find it challenging to report the harassment because it is common for the bully to hold a senior position.

They might believe their boss would take their manager’s word more seriously or ignore the allegations.

Sometimes, the bully continues as usual, while the victims move to a different department.

Sadly it is often the case the bully escapes punishment and the victims suffer.

READ MORE: How To Keep Your Employees Motivated

Cover-ups could happen

In some cases, businesses appear unable to accept that one of their staff has been pestering another team member because they fear word will spread and harm their reputation.

Because of their fear, business executives frequently take no action at all.

And in such cases, the victim is within their rights to seek the assistance of an employment legislation solicitor who can assist them in their search for justice and financial compensation for the loss of income and emotional harm brought on by the place of work troublemaker.

Workplace bullying can affect your health

Worker experiences bullying from her colleagues

Your work environment significantly influences your productivity and efficiency at work.

This means workplace harassment and intimidation may impact your physical and mental health.

You might experience feelings of deprivation and loneliness, and in extreme cases, these could cause long-term mental health issues, digestive upset, and high blood pressure.

A compromised mental state undermines a person’s motivation to maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise, and as a result, physical health suffers.

Early detection of these symptoms may aid in timely situational management.

According to the adage, “Prevention is better than cure.”

This holds true for keeping a positive mindset and counteracting negative thoughts. 

A person’s energy level declines when their mental state is tested.

Workplace bullying may impact a person’s relationships with friends, and family, as well as themselves.

Verbal and physical abuse, physical assault, threatening behavior, intimidation, and abuse on social media are some conditions affecting mental health.

These actions are bullying and are bad for the employees’ mental and physical health.

It’s critical for bosses to be conscious of any situations and the potential for bullying to occur.

What can bosses do?

A prompt, accurate, and appropriate resolution of harassment claims can reduce the damage it causes both the person and the company.

As a manager it’s important you act, for the sake of the person being bullied.

You also risk punishment yourself if you choose not to take control of the complaint.

Things to ask yourself

Are you aware of your responsibilities to implement disciplinary measures if the rules on harassment have been broken?

Or, do you understand how to prevent harassment in the future when it’s unclear whether it happened?

The quality of your responses will determine whether or not discrimination claims are avoided.

A feeble response will be no defense and may expose you to more legal risk.

On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to be overbearing.

You will have to consider that the victim may be exaggerating the situation, or even making it all up.

Fortunately, there are a few straightforward steps you can take to assist in choosing the proper discipline.

Employees cannot be subjected to harassment or work environments where they are abused because of their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, color, religion, or national origin,

The Americans with Disabilities Act has also been interpreted to forbid harassing someone because of their disability.

The same legal analysis applies even though most harassment claims center on allegations of sexual harassment.

Offensive behavior can be directed at any legally protected group. 

Most states, urban areas, and other local governmental bodies also have laws against workplace harassment.

Disciplinary action

When your policy on harassment has been broken, one of the final phases in any process is disciplinary action.

It should only happen once you’ve conducted a prompt and thorough investigation, spoken with all parties concerned, and carefully considered the available evidence.

If you conclude the harassment policy has been broken, the next step is to take disciplinary action.

Your disciplinary actions should generally consider the type and severity of the harassment.

You also need to consider whether it was a one-time breaking of the policy or part of a more significant pattern of harassment.

You should also adhere to the standard disciplinary policies of your organization.

As a manager, you also need to confirm your course of action accurately corresponds with any relevant prior precedents.

Employers who wish to avoid liability must take appropriate corrective action that is “reasonably calculated” to end the harassment and stop any further incidents, according to tribunals and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The disciplinary actions should also be commensurate with how serious the offense was.

Of course, the harasser must be warned that additional offenses will not be considered acceptable.

They need it made crystal clear any more will lead to further action as part of any restraint short of termination.

What if there is No Breach of Policy?

If you look into a harassment complaint and find that your policy wasn’t broken, you shouldn’t punish the alleged harasser or take any other action against the complaining employee.

However, you must fully explain why the evidence did not support the claim to the team member who has made the complaint.

Additionally, you must be ready for the team member’s complaints about your decision.

Most companies invite the worker to provide any additional evidence as a safety valve and reassure them it will be looked into.

The team member should also be reminded that she can challenge the decision using your standard complaint resolution process.

Depending on the situation, you’re likely to have some sympathy

Any sympathy you express for the complainant’s worries will lessen the emotion that frequently results in a complaint to the EEOC or legal action.

Uncertainty in Investigations

Unfortunately, there are frequently situations where the investigation’s findings are uncertain or inconclusive.

But the fact is, the issue won’t go away.

You could well find yourself trying to manage two people who find it very difficult to work together.

Even if there’s no conclusive result from the investigation, if you don’t show some concern, the situation could continue.

You need to consider the impact on both parties and the team in general.

READ MORE: How To Create A Great Place To Work

Clearly explain what’s happened

You must explain to the complaining staffer the reason why there’s no clear result in the investigation.

You should also stress the company’s adherence to its policy.

Make sure to inform the employee that you will notify the alleged harasser about the repercussions of any improper behavior.

Additionally, if they think the decision was unfair, you should encourage them to use the appeals process by explaining it.

Sadly, the likelihood is the issue won’t go away, so you may well find yourself having to deal with further conflict.

The situation could deteriorate and require more action, which could involve redeploying one of the parties to another part of the company.

Clearly communicate to everyone involved what’s happening, show sympathy to both parties where appropriate, and ensure your actions align with the company’s rules.

Monitoring the Results

Whatever course of action you choose, you must follow through to ensure there is no backlash and no more incidents.

This step is essential because, although your initial corrective action seems to have worked, you still have a legal duty to act if the harassment persists or worsens.

In one scenario, one person has been reprimanded, but they still work together.

This could present you with a very tricky situation to manage.

As the boss, it’s your responsibility to do all you can to ensure the situation does continue.

Take Action

Recent cases involving workplace harassment make it abundantly clear a prompt and efficient response on the employer’s part is essential for limiting liability.

However, you should only use appropriate discipline as one part of your prevention and resolution plan.

You need to ensure your staff members understand the policy.

In turn, the policy needs to be robust.

It must make it clear the company forbids harassment and encourages complaints. 

You must put in place a complaint procedure that allows you to look into and promptly address complaints.

You can help to prevent liability for abuse and, more importantly, foster a positive work environment by doing these things.

The fact is a harmonious environment where everyone is pulling in the same direction is the most efficient and enjoyable way of working.

Managers don’t want to spend time dealing with staff who hate each other, so they must create a positive working atmosphere and environment.

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