The first step in managing workplace bullying is to create a culture of resilience. This ensures targeted individuals and witnesses can withstand bullying while steps are being taken to manage the perpetrator.
Resilience is the number one soft skill required for the 21st century work environment. It is defined as the mental and emotional skill to cope with a crisis and quickly return to a pre-crisis status.
Resilient people are trained not to be susceptible to emotional triggers. They have the capacity to regulate their thoughts and emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships thoughtfully and empathetically. They have a balanced and realistic view of themselves and an overall sense of personal value and self-worth. They seldom accede to unfounded criticism or blame.
Many bullies create turbulence and uncertainty around their targets. Resilient people are adaptable. They adjust their thinking, behaviours and expectations to deal with new situations. They have a high tolerance of uncertainty and are not threatened by the unknown.
In bullying environments, resilient individuals are solution orientated. For example, resilient individuals are trained to constantly monitor and regulate their stress response, whether the source of the stress is a bully or some other stressor. Because they are less stressed, the impact on their productivity is less.
Managing bullies is not within the scope of any one individual – resilient or not – within an organisation, especially if the bullies have sponsors. For a company to manage a perpetrator and possibly one or more sponsors, it needs to have a management process in place. This should include the following:
- A committed culture of non-bullying that is visible and believable. The greater the observed commitment to zero tolerance, the higher the trust by employees
- Workable and accessible policies and procedures that provide practical guidelines to targets, observers and managers
- A code of conduct that is easily accessible, for example, an employee handbook that outlines respectful behaviour from all employees and sets the tone for a professional work environment.
- An available definition of bullying, which outlines behaviours that could be considered borderline bullying to full blown pathological behaviour
- An available description of the symptoms experienced by targets that allows them to quickly recognise when they are being bullied
- Available information on the severe consequences of bullying, which reflects a stance of zero tolerance
- Safe channels and environments in which bullying can be reported and managed without fear of retaliation. Complaints cannot be swept under the rug or denied. Every complaint about bullying behaviour has to be taken seriously and should be fairly investigated. This contributes to employee trust in the system.
- Everyone in the workplace should be trained on, and held accountable for, professional behaviour. As stress in general increases in the workplace, so does aggressive and unprofessional communication. Under stress, ordinary people are less inclined to monitor their behaviour and more likely to explode and behave in an anti-social manner.
As companies move further into the highly competitive and fluctuating economies and markets of the 21st century, reliance on high performing individuals and teams has become critical to success. Removing stressors that impact on high performance has become key in ensuring the profitability of companies. Bullying has been identified as a high impact stressor and companies are steadily becoming more astute in their strategies to manage this business risk.
American Psychology Association
Workplace Bullying Institute
Harvard Business Review
SA Board for People Practice
TUC – changing the world of work for good
Dichthelabel – The Annual Bullying Survey 2019
No Workplace Bullies
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