The Costs of Workplace Bullying and How to Address it
By Silvia Carli-Reese MS, RD, CSCS
Bullying happens all day, every day, whether in person or online. Many think that bullying only refers to children, but this is not true. It can also happen at your place of work and can sometimes go unnoticed. Let’s take a look at the costs of workplace bullying and how to address it.
What is Workplace Bullying and Abuse?
More and more, many adults are experiencing workplace bullying and reporting it to their HR departments. According to Workplace Mental Health, workplace bullying involves multiple, repeated, intentional acts of aggression, hostility, social isolation, or disrespect.
Workplace bullying can happen in various ways, but some common examples include:
Constructive criticism is healthy. Everyone needs to be told what they’re doing well and what they can improve. But constant, unwarranted, and aggressive criticism can be demeaning and harmful, making it hard to feel comfortable at work and to do your job without constant fear of being ridiculed.
Inappropriate behavior can be anything from making sexual comments to a colleague, deliberately touching, leaning, or cornering a coworker, asking personal questions about a coworker’s life, commenting on one’s appearance, asking questions about someone’s sexuality, gender identity, etc. This behavior can come from a fellow employee or even your boss or someone who ranks higher.
Making verbal or physical threats to make someone uncomfortable or coerce them to do something they don’t want to do for the benefit of the company or an employee is inappropriate behavior.
Gossip and Rumors
Bullying can also come in the form of spreading rumors about a colleague’s personal life. This can create a hostile work environment and make it difficult for someone to work in peace and be productive.
How Does Workplace Bullying Affect You?
Workplace bullying is not only harmful to employees’ mental health but can cause high stress and be detrimental to a company’s reputation and morale. Working already comes with many difficulties and stressors, but our workplace interactions play a huge factor in how we feel physically and emotionally, leading to many employees taking time off or quitting altogether.
Physical side effects of bullying can look like insomnia, headaches, intensified anxiety, depression, digestive issues, stomach pain, and an overall feeling of malaise.
There’s a long-lasting effect on those who have experienced bullying due to workplace ethics. It can be hard for many to trust going into a new environment and can even cause post-traumatic stress disorder. But there are ways to combat this and tips on how to manage stress.
Ways to Make the Workplace Better
Not only is it important for employees to share their experiences, but it’s also essential for employers to stand up for their employers, provide a safe place to share struggles, and give actionable steps to create a better working environment.
Employers can do their part by first acknowledging that malicious behavior and workplace bullying exists. This will help validate an employee’s experience and provide them the opportunity to feel more comfortable when coming to HR or a higher-up about a problem.
Employers should also be developing guidelines about acceptable behavior and company standards. This all starts with the hiring process and making sure to choose employees who value others and the policies that are set in place. During the hiring process, employers should consider the five dysfunctions of a team and the seven habits of highly effective people to ensure they are creating safe and productive teams that not only help a company succeed but boost morale and retention.
Over time, especially during COVID, many companies have prioritized management training programs on workplace bullying and abuse, as well as being intentional about creating a peaceful and supportive work culture. This includes having DE&I workshops, gifting stipends for mental health use such as therapy, a massage, etc., or providing employees with subscriptions to mental health apps or support groups with mental health tips.
Workplace bullying can be hard to combat and can often feel discouraging, but there’s hope. If you or anyone you know is experiencing workplace bullying, know that there are tools and people who can help. It might be scary, but sharing your voice and acknowledging workplace bullying can help employers reduce these occurrences and create a healthier work environment for all.
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