Manager Tips: How to Deal with Bullies on your Team

“The company needs to review and root out workforce bullies in this organization. There is a core group of four employees led by John Doe* and with influence from Sue Smith* that cause widespread problems that are affecting the company’s bottom line through confusion, lost productivity, low morale and employee turnover.” – Comment obtained in ExitRight® exit interview. *Names have been changed to protect identity.

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as repeated mistreatment by one or more employees in the form of either verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, humiliation, work interference, or a combination of any of these behaviors. Unless the employees affected or their peers step forward, it is entirely possible you may not even know it’s happening, quickly driving out your team members. It is possible you have a bully present in your office, but what should you as a manager do when that person is part of your team?

The key to successfully navigating the liability associated with bullying is prevention. It is important to have credible data that allows employers to eradicate the bully. Often, employees will not speak up even in an anonymous survey. They are more likely to communicate the problem if they can safely share with a third party. There are products on the market that will flag certain words associated with bullying to help employers get ahead of the problem. For example, employee engagement surveys and exit interviews such as ExitRight® offered by HSD Metrics has word algorithms built into the technology platform. If employees use one of more than 160 keywords, employers will be able to quickly identify possible issues. The small investment in collected data is far outweighed by the potential cost of resolving a dispute.

Either way, if the tip about a workplace bully comes from a current or former employee, it is essential to act and effectively resolve the issue.

Once bullying has been confirmed, hold the person accountable. Too often, managers fall back on the “we’re all adults here” sentiment, leaving the bully and victim to work it out themselves. However, this will typically result in the problem escalating, harming any productivity even more. Be sure your team understands what constitutes acceptable behavior in the office, whether these are developed together in a group setting, or provided by your company. Bring each of your team members in for individual meetings presented as just a quick check-in on work-related matters to get their versions of the story. The person or persons being directly bullied should be separated from the offender, especially after any discussions, to help prevent retaliation. Once you have all of the facts, have the bully apologize and present them with appropriate consequences. Support those affected in any way possible to help make them feel more comfortable in the workplace. Be sure to monitor the bully’s behavior moving forward and let them know that if a line is crossed again, their termination is highly likely.

Look in the mirror: Are you the bully? If you find that you’re always feeling as though your employees aren’t doing enough, or others seem to be avoiding you, it’s entirely possible that you are the bully. This may be a bit more difficult to grasp and change, as it relies on you hearing the truth from your team without going on the defensive, which can be hard to take. Talk to your employees and ask honestly what changes they would like to see in how you treat them or run the department – and be sure to implement their instructions. It may take some time for them to warm back up to you, but with continued effort and proven changes, you can reestablish a great employee-manager relationship. Another possibility is to implement a 360 feedback solution, which will help employees and managers understand the potential disconnects between intended and interpreted actions.

Regardless of the source, it is important your employees understand that workplace bullying will not be tolerated. As a manager, you will need to investigate the claims and address any issues quickly, either to retain current employees or prevent more from leaving. If you are having any issues with employee retention, contact us today. Our provided metrics will help you measure your employees’ perceptions so you know exactly where you are excelling, and where improvements need to be made.