Workplace bullying continues to garner a lot of attention these days. More and more people are becoming aware of what consequences abusive behavior in the workplace can cause. Many people want to cry bullying, but they may not know what bullying behavior actually is. Not every negative action taken in the workplace by an employer or by coworkers should be considered bullying, even if the behavior results in a hurtful reaction..
It is important for workers and employers to understand what bullying is and what it is not. The Workplace Bullying Institute has defined workplace bullying as repeated, intentional, health-harming acts targeted by one or more individuals against one or more individuals for the purpose of degrading, sabotaging, or abusing the targeted individual or individuals. These acts can include such things as spreading lies about the target, distracting targets from work and social functions and excessive and/or unwarranted criticism of target’s work.
Certain workplace behaviors may seem abusive to a person or persons, but these behaviors may be within the rights and responsibilities of management. These include assigning work that may be different than ordinary tasks but still within the skills of the assigned employee. Many workplaces include “other duties as assigned” in all of their job descriptions. Likewise, companies can legally change entire job descriptions to meet the needs of their business. As long as the job description is reasonable and still within the skill set of an employee, the employer can make the job change without the employee’s permission and they can expect the employee to comply.
Issues may come up during disciplinary procedures enacted by the employer. Employers have the right to exercise appropriate disciplinary actions for performance issues and negative workplace behavior by employees. Just because the employee disagrees with a disciplinary action does not mean that bullying has occurred. A red flag that employees should look for is disciplinary action that seems excessive or abusive, such as the behaviors listed above. Excessive disciplinary actions may fall under the umbrella of workplace bullying. Another example of discipline that may raise eyebrows is any disciplinary action received by one individual but not by another for an equally inappropriate act. This behavior may constitute discrimination, harassment and/or bullying.
Other issues that may come up that are acceptable management practices or employee behavior include:
- Expressing differences of opinion.
- Offering constructive feedback, guidance, or advice about work‑related behavior.
- Reasonable action taken by an employer or supervisor relating to the management and direction of workers or the place of employment. This can include reassignment to a different department or work site.
- Acceptable office banter and conversations. No dirty jokes or religious/political commentary should be allowed. Some employers encourage “fun at work.”
Employees and employers alike need to be aware of behaviors that constitute workplace bullying and the behaviors that are not considered bullying. The key to determining if a set of behaviors constitute bullying is whether or not malice is intended. It can be difficult to determine motive and intent, but if the behavior would make a reasonable person feel intimidated or threatened, then the behavior can probably be considered bullying.
To ensure that bullying does not take a foothold in the workplace, developing an anti-bullying policy is a good first step. The policy should define acceptable and unacceptable workplace conduct. Next, making sure that all employees are trained on the workplace bullying policy is vital. The policies should be reviewed annually and employees should receive annual training either as a refresher course or to go over new material. Having everybody on the same page is always a good practice for all businesses.