Bullying in the Workplace?

Casual conversations can quickly turn thought provoking. At a recent dinner with friends in Santa Fe, dinner topics included catching up on our life events, mutual friends who recently became grandparents, politics, work, and the world of book publishing.

Suddenly, someone asked me about my experiences with bullying at work. Fortunately I have not heard of any situations where my clients have encountered this behavior. Apparently this was an issue where she worked. She explained there had been circumstances of employees complaining about harassment. However, the described behaviors were not based on any protected characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and did not fit neatly into the legal definition of harassment or discrimination. She seemed perplexed as to how to address it in her workplace. I immediately went to my favorite workplace concept, respect.

I explained that whether the workplace issue is diversity, harassment, discrimination, or anything else, I always default to the common denominator, respectful and professional behavior. I frequently weave this concept into training and urge participants to maintain respectful behavior. This avoids the need for having a "legal label" on the behavior while assuring a positive workplace atmosphere.

Having strong policies and practices that support a culture of respect provides the basis to address all types of behavior. Codes of conduct should
• Define behavior that the organization deems to be unacceptable conduct
• Provide examples of these behaviors
• Be wary of restricting unacceptable behavior only to those examples listed and include the caveat "including, but not limited"
• Have flexible avenues to address unacceptable behavior

Workplace bullying, should come under the category and definition of "harm or threat of harm". Workplace bullying, if not addressed, could result in workplace violence. If this is the case, an employee assistance program (EAP) and/or EAP professional should be consulted. Please visit the Reports section of this website for additional information on Making Referrals to Employee Assistance Programs.



1. Alice Waagen wrote:
Thanks for giving us the good advice on addressing bullying in the workplace. I am an independent HR consultant and have seen bullying in my client organizations. Often the bully is tolerated by management because they are a top performer but the effect of their behavior on morale and engagement can be devastating. Great to reference using the EAP to help employees deal with the negative impact of a bully.

July 16, 2012 @ 8:28 AM

2. Cornelia wrote:
Thanks for your comment , Alice. Too often bullying is not equated with workplace violence. The EAP is an excellent resource.

July 18, 2012 @ 6:41 PM

3. Tom Murphy, MS, LMHC, CEAP, NCC wrote:
There is a New University of British Columbia research reveals that workers who witness bullying can have a stronger urge to quit than those who experience it firsthand. he findings of the study conducted by the Sauder School of Business at UBC indicate bullying’s corrosive effects in the workplace may be more dramatic and costly than suspected. For more info, go to:


And, as Cornelia offers, your comapny or emaployer may have a contracted EAP (Employee Assistance Program); it would be an excellent source for inofrmation, consultation, training, and short term counseling for the employee and his/her family members around this important issue.

For more on EAP's, go to:

July 19, 2012 @ 2:41 PM

4. Beth Gilley wrote:
As an EAP, we frequently see the impact of bullying from many perspectives. I really like your focus on a respectful workplace. A culture of respect that begins at the most senior levels and pervades the organization is a deterrent to bullying.
When bullying does occur it impacts not only the individuals involved but the work group, the organization, productivity and morale. The EAP is a valuable resource for all those involved. Managers can use the EAP as a consultant to assist in stopping the bullying behavior. The EAP will provide a fresh perspective, look at company policy and guide and coach the manger to develop a plan to stop the bullying.
In addition, the EAP will assist the organization in looking at their policies to ensure that policies support a respectful workplace. The EAP will provide support to the person being bullied and to the bully. The employee being bullied can benefit from the independent support , coping and communication skills and the bully surely needs to learn new ways to communicate. The EAP is a comprehensive risk management tool providing tangible results at all levels in dealing with bullying behavior.

July 19, 2012 @ 8:41 PM


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