No Bullies Allowed: Developing a Workplace Anti-Bullying Policy

In a telling reminder of how the effects of workplace bullying can continue long after the job itself has ended, here is a quote from The Huffington Post, reporting on a major journalistic coup:

“Ann Curry’s interview with Irianian [sic] president Hassan Rouhani was undoubtedly the biggest moment in her career since she was ousted from the ‘Today’ show in 2012.”

Although Curry’s employer, NBC, has not publicly addressed reports of a toxic atmosphere surrounding her departure from the show, the network has replaced most of the senior Today show employees behind the scenes at the time. Now, over a year later, the fallout continues for both employer and employee; even this noteworthy professional achievement for both Curry and NBC News— the first interview between Rouhani and a Western journalist since he became president of Iran — has been clouded by the decidedly unprofessional way that Curry was treated at Today.

As we discussed in last month’s post, bullying that is not violent and not directed at a protected class generally is not prohibited by law. But the negative impact of workplace bullying goes beyond the employee being bullied. According to a recent report by USA Today, bullying creates an uncomfortable work environment, leading to lower productivity and higher turnover. In fact, just being around a bully can lead to symptoms of depression and stress.

Despite the lack of anti-bullying legislation, smart employers will adopt an anti-bullying policy to help promote an atmosphere of respect among employees. In fact, October 20-26, 2013, is “Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week,” a project of the Workplace Bullying Institute and other organizations devoted to maintaining a healthy workplace.

The American Bar Association website has a model anti-bullying policy to help you get started, but your company’s policy should be developed according to the specific goals and culture of the organization. You may choose to create a standalone policy or expand existing harassment policies to include bullying.

Whatever the case, here are some issues to consider as you design your anti-bullying policy.

  1. State your commitment to a respectful, bully-free workplace. Even though you may consider your company to have a healthy workplace now, you are taking a firm stand against unacceptable behavior by creating a policy.
  2. Clearly define workplace bullying and inappropriate conduct, including a statement of awareness of all levels of bullying, i.e., between managers and employees, between coworkers, between clients and staff, etc.  List types of behavior that will not be tolerated.
  3. Establish procedures for reporting bullying. Employees may be reluctant to speak up for fear of retaliation. Consider an anonymous hotline or similar reporting system to reinforce your intention to enforce the anti-bullying policy.
  4. Outline the consequences of violating the anti-bullying policy, including the types of discipline that may be enforced and how the process will be documented.
  5. Live up to your commitments. That means taking all complaints seriously, regardless of whether the harassment falls within a legally protected class.

Instituting a workplace anti-bullying policy sends a message to employees that your company values them and will protect their interests. And that’s a message that every employee wants to hear.

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