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How to prevent workplace bullying

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Jason Carney gives his insight to BenefitsPro on how employers can help prevent bullying in the workplace.

 

Employers can prevent workplace bullying

BY AMANDA MCGRORY-DIXON
December 21, 2012

While bullying sounds like an issue reserved for the playground, it is a continuing problem in today’s workplace. Generally, workplace bullying involves demeaning an employee or undermining and sabotaging his or her work, says Jason Carney, director of human resources at WorkSmart Systems Inc., a professional employer organization in Indianapolis.

“In a lot of ways, work is no different than high school,” Carney says. “People feel they need to be in with the ‘right crowd,’ and they bow to peer pressure of bullying.”

If an employer were to allow workplace bullying to continue, it could expect to see lower productivity, higher absenteeism and poor morale, Carney says. Rather than focusing on their work, bullied employees are often too preoccupied with the harassment. In some cases, an employer could even see higher insurance costs as more claims associated with bullying are filed.

“You want to do the right thing by your employees and prevent bullying from happening, but there’s also a strong business case to be made for all of the negative outcomes that happen to and in a business when bullying is taking place,” Carney says.

To prevent workplace bullying from becoming a problem, an employer should be on the lookout for office gossip, which is a major indicator that bullying is happening, Carney says. An employer can help reduce harmful gossip by making employees aware of how it defines gossip, why gossiping can be damaging and what to do if they see gossiping take place.

“Gossip is the root of a lot of evils in the workplace,” Carney says. “Gossip incidents are something that’s relatively tangible for an employer to deal with.”

Sensitivity training for all employees can also help while managers should undergo training specifically for workplace bullying, Carney says. Managers must understand how to recognize workplace bullying, conduct an investigation and make employees feel comfortable enough to talk about the situation; however, many managers are not prepared to do so.

“It is critical to have a good management team in place that can spot this bullying a mile away,” Carney says. “A lot of managers these days simply aren’t equipped to do that. They’re more focused on their jobs than watching out for bullies.”

Once it has been determined that workplace bullying has occurred, an employer should help the victim gain access to an employee assistance program, Carney says. Through an EAP, the victim can receive free counseling sessions on a confidential basis. The EAP can also serve as a third-party reporting mechanism in which employees call in when they witness workplace bullying. Once statements are filed, the EAP then reports back to the employer, and the name of the employee placing the complaint remains private.

“Having an EAP is absolutely vital, and it’s something even the smallest of companies can afford,” Carney says.

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