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Workplace Wellbeing: Bullying

August 29, 2016

There has been a lot of attention recently on bullying in schools and the detrimental impact on students’ mental health and wellbeing. In 2015, the Minnesota Senate passed a bill that requires school districts to develop and enforce a plan to reduce bullying. Not surprisingly, bullying doesn’t end on the playground. In an article in Psychology Today (2011), Ray Williams describes workplace bullying as a silent epidemic in North America. According to the 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27% of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work and another 21% have witnessed it. 72% are aware that workplace bullying happens.

This survey also revealed the very disturbing finding that employers fail to appropriately react to abusive conduct much more frequently than they take positive steps to ameliorate bullying. Denial (25%) and discounting (16%) and rationalization of behavior (15%) were the most frequent employer reactions. 12% of employers create and enforce policies and procedures to eliminate it, while only 6% condemn it and exercise zero-tolerance. What do co-workers do? Most often, they do nothing. In many respects, this “normalizes” the behavior and contributes to the creation of a hostile work environment. While bullying can have a devastating impact on an employee’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, it also takes a toll on the organization resulting in increased turnover, decreased engagement and lower productivity.

Addressing bullying in the workplace requires a comprehensive strategy that includes:

  • Developing an anti-bullying policy as part of the overall workplace harassment policy.
  • Educating supervisors and employees on bullying and clarifying behavior that will not be tolerated.
  • Coaching supervisors and employees who witness bullying to speak up and address bullying immediately.
  • Encouraging employees who are victims of bullying to make complaints with the assurance that no retaliation will result.
  • Giving feedback to the bully and implementing disciplinary actions.

Most important is creating a culture where bullying behavior is unable to thrive. While leaders have an important role in creating a healthy workplace, everyone in the organization contributes to wellbeing in the workplace.


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