The people in Human Resources (HR) aren’t the only ones responsible for preventing workplace harassment and bullying; however, it often falls into their lap. Linda Crockett, Specialist in Workplace Bullying Prevention and Intervention with the Canadian Institute of Workplace Bullying Resources, believes everyone within an organization should shoulder this responsibility.

Ensuring workers are mentally well leads to a successful, productive workplace and enhances management’s reputation within an organization. In addition, taking care of employee mental health decreases workplace harassment and fosters employee safety. 

Workplace Harassment and Bullying Creates Safety Issues

Harassment in the workplace starts as a small joke here and there. Over time, it can severely impact an employee, causing them to shrink into themselves and become avoidant. This avoidance or isolation wears on the employee, pushing them to distraction, causing them to lose productivity, and forcing them to lose sleep. Lack of focus and sleep leads to serious safety hazards at work for themselves, their coworkers, and anyone in the vicinity.

Workplace harassment and bullying harm the mind and the body. Chronic harassment can cause panic attacks or worsen anxiety and depression. It can also place a worker in a hypervigilant state leading to physical ailments like:

  • Stomach ulcers and aches
  • Poor immune system
  • Cardiac issues
  • Migraines
  • Poor eating habits
  • Workplace injuries

Many injuries on the job are caused by work-related stress from harassment and bullying by bosses and coworkers. A study in 2019 by Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) addresses the three leading causes of workplace injury: 

  • musculoskeletal disorders
  • Slips, trips, and falls 
  • Psychosocial hazards

The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics has data to support the claim that almost one in five violent incidents in Canada occurs at work, and these incidents often lead to injuries and lost-time injury claims. 

Another eye-opening statistic Crockett shares is that 70 percent of bullying within an organization comes from the top down. Having this awareness helps organizations understand that safety concerns are not only caused by conflicts between coworkers but are frequently caused by conflicts between coworkers and supervisors.

Signs of Workplace Bullying

Employees harassed at work will usually file an official complaint with HR or say something to a colleague or supervisor. If they don’t, though, pay attention to the telltale signs that an employee is being bullied:

  • Harassment complaints (official or otherwise)
  • Work performance changes
  • Behavioral issues
  • Attendance changes
  • Overall tension

A worker being bullied may have trouble focusing or struggle to meet deadlines. For example, they might submit sloppy and disorganized work, or their decision-making and problem-solving skills are noticeably deteriorating.

Regarding behavior issues, the employee may withdraw and no longer participate or attend meetings. Their communication may decrease in general with management and coworkers. Office parties they may have attended before, they now avoid.

Another sign of harassment is if the employee begins to call out sick or shows up late to work. Bullied employees may have issues with sleep causing them to sleep through alarms or come down with physical ailments like headaches and stomach aches.

Morale may seem lower than usual in a person being harassed. Communication will decrease, and so will motivation to continue working. High turnover rates within an organization are a possible sign harassment and bullying is happening in the workplace. 

Preventing Harassment in the Workplace

Preventing bullying is much easier than dealing with its aftermath and a possible major crisis. Here are some ways to prevent bullying in the workplace:

  • Set expectations by informing employees harassment is prohibited
  • Let employees know who they can contact if they are being harassed or have questions and concerns surrounding workplace bullying
  • Assure employees they will not be punished for speaking up
  • Respond to harassment questions and complaints and investigate promptly and effectively
  • Ensure managers understand policies and procedures for detecting harassment and their responsibility to stop and address bullying

An excellent way to prevent harassment and bullying is by creating a healthy workplace culture from the top down. Embrace respect, encourage communication, and implement a true open-door policy. Be a good listener and an unbiased party when or if an employee complains about a possible bullying situation.

Cutting Harassment and Bullying from the Workplace for Good

It’s essential to take all employee complaints seriously and not chalk them up to a personality clash. Simply mandating employees to complete a quarterly or annual online training on harassment and bullying is not enough to stop workplace harassment. Instead, organizations should carefully observe, report, and follow up on complaints to prevent future occurrences and create a safer work environment for everyone.

 

Sources:

Ferron, E.M., Kovacs, J., Preventing Violence and Harassment in Canadian Workplaces, CSA Group; https://www.csagroup.org/wp-content/uploads/CSA-Group-Research-Preventing-Violence-and-Harassment-in-Canadian-Workplaces.pdf

Foulis, M., Why Workplace Harassment and Bullying is a Safety Issue, Canadian Occupational Safety

Meyers, J., Signs and Symptoms of Workplace Harassment; https://smallbusiness.chron.com/signs-symptoms-harassment-11837.html

Workplace Injury, Illness, and Fatality Statistics Provincial Summary; https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/4fb90b70-7660-4553-98fc-a59574f8fd5a/resource/5e959e64-50f5-41d4-b5a7-c5db093835f1/download/lbr-2019-workplace-injury-illness-fatality-provincial-summary-2019.pdf