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HR & Benefits News: Workplace Bullying And The Potential Costs

Chris Cooley supervisors
Chris Cooley

HR & Benefits News is a monthly column by Chris Cooley, co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors.

Most of us experienced or witnessed bullying on the playground as kids, but many small and medium business owners are unaware of how prevalent bullying currently is in the workplace, and how corrosive it can be to the work environment. Workplace bullying has become so commonplace that nonprofit organizations and federal agencies have performed numerous surveys and extensive clinical research to determine the effects on both employees and company profits.

A 2017 survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute concluded that more than 60 million U.S. workers were affected by bullying at work, defined as “repeated harmful abusive conduct that is threatening, intimidating, humiliating, work sabotage or verbal abuse.” Another source, the American Working Conditions Survey (AWCS) performed by RAND Corp., found that “nearly one in five American workers were subjected to some form of verbal abuse, unwanted sexual attention, threats, or humiliating behavior at work in the past month, or to physical violence, bullying or harassment, or sexual harassment at work in the past year.”

How it affects your business

As an independent business owner, what do you need to be aware of? Effects of workplace bullying on employees include:

  • Risk of claims filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
  • Absenteeism
  • Lower productivity
  • Lost innovations
  • High turnover rate
  • Potential damage to the company’s reputation

It is estimated that each target of a bully may lose up to 200 hours of productivity annually. Bullies often target minorities and women, and the EEOC routinely files harassment lawsuits against employers based on sex, race and national origin.

How to prevent bullying in your company

1. Be aware

Watch for signs of bullying—public shaming of an employee, gossip, insults and deliberate exclusion of individual employees from meetings and functions are all indicators.

2. Address bullying in your employee handbook

Have a clear and up-to-date policy on bullying and harassment of all forms in your employee handbooks. It is also important that employees have signed an acknowledgement stating they have received and read the handbook.

3. Training

It is important that all employees are trained to understand what constitutes bullying and that it will not be tolerated. In addition, supervisors should be trained on how to spot bullying and how to properly address it within your company’s policies and procedures.

4. Give your employees a way to report bullying

An anonymous employee tip line can provide a safe place for targets of bullies to report harassment incidents without fear of repercussions. In many cases, we have found supervisors have performed the bullying. This often leaves the employee without an avenue to report it. An anonymous employee tip line gives the employee an avenue to report the bullying to upper management.

5. Investigate claims of bullying

A common mistake that owners and managers make is not taking bullying claims seriously. Stay current on the proper protocol for handling harassment claims. It is important that companies develop procedures on how to properly handle bullying claims. This will allow you to investigate, document and follow up to protect your employees and your bottom line.

Chris Cooley is co-founder of MyHRConcierge and SMB Benefits Advisors. Grocers and other employers rely on him for HR compliance and administration, contesting SUI claims, ACA compliance, COBRACompli, employee handbooks, workforce management and benefits advisory solutions. Cooley’s companies specialize in helping small to mid-sized grocers throughout the U.S. Cooley can be reached at 855-538-6947, ext. 108 or at [email protected].


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