Managing Workplace Bullying and Discrimination

When it comes to team morale, there’s nothing that creates a hostile work environment more than workplace bullying and discrimination. Given that it can present itself in so many ways, it can be difficult for an employer to not only recognise the signs of a distressed employee but also find ways to effectively offer remediation solutions. We take a look at the difference between harassment, bullying and discrimination, and ways you can implement some preventative and reactive measures for managing workplace bullying.

Managing workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination – what’s the difference?

What is bullying?

Simply put, bullying is a form of repeated, abusive behaviour towards a person that has a negative impact on their wellbeing. It can arise in the form of mental abuse, social exclusion, or even as far as physical torment. Some examples of workplace bullying include:

1. Cliques

Unfortunately, you’ll often find that cliques are not just a high school thing but very prevalent in the workplace too. Though forming friendship circles within the workplace is normal and healthy, workplace cliques can cause more harm than good if it revolves around exclusionary behavior. Workplace cliques are especially toxic if the friendship seems centred on ostracising fellow employees or spreading gossip, or if employees outside the clique feel as though they’re rejected or left out.

2. Constant criticism

An employee or manager who is a constant critic is someone who offers unwarranted criticism or excessive monitoring to a degree that an employee feels as though they are unable to perform. If an employee is subject to a constant critic, they’ll likely incur bad feedback no matter how well they perform. This can lead to severe anxiety and depression, destroy self-esteem and make doing well in their career very difficult.

Legitimate advice, feedback from the managers and supervisors on the work performance does not constitute harassment. A manager should handle staff performance conversations with sensitivity, but they should not avoid the responsibility to provide an objective, honest feedback to their staff. Fair performance counselling or discipline should not be confused with harassment or discrimination.

3. Projection of blame

Projecting blame onto others, especially junior staff members, is a common tactic of bullies who refuse to take responsibility for their actions. Often, the blame will continuously fall onto the same person time and time again and the bully may encourage others to also project blame onto that person as well. Similarly, a person who dabbles in this type of behaviour may also take credit for other people’s work to positively shift the focus onto themselves.

What is harassment?

Harassment falls under any unwanted behaviour a person finds offensive or makes them feel embarrassed or humiliated. Workplace harassment examples can commonly be divided into the following:

Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is any unwelcome behaviour that is sexual in nature.

Verbal: An employee makes a lewd remark, such as commenting on a coworker’s appearance, in general E.g “You’re looking good in that dress today!” “Have you been doing some squats lately because your butt is looking nice!”

Non-verbal: A coworker makes lewd or suggestive gesturing, leers or winks.

Physical: A coworker makes an unwanted sexual advance on a colleague, such as touching, patting, or pinching.

Verbal harassment

Verbal harassment refers to ongoing, demeaning remarks directed towards an employee or coworker. Verbal workplace harassment examples include insults, slurs, unsavoury jokes, hurtful comments, and unnecessary criticism.

Psychological harassment

Similar to verbal harassment but a little more covert, psychological harassment refers to any actions that are meant to demean or devalue an employee. This can include taking credit for someone else’s work, purposely misleading someone, withholding information, or making unreasonable demands.

Physical harassment

Physical harassment or ‘workplace violence’ involves making physical threats or deliberatly imposing in someone’s physical space as a form of intimidation. This can include shoving, pushing, or poking someone, or deliberately blocking someone’s path.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination refers to a person being treated less favourably due to their background, mental or physical characteristics. Managing discrimination in the workplace can often come down to placing clear anti-discrimination policies and cultivating a no tolerance workplace culture.

The most common forms of discrimination in the workplace include:

Gender discrimination

Gender discrimination refers to an individual being treated differently due to their gender, and may result in unequal pay, or missing out on deserved job role or promotion in favour of someone less qualified. This commonly happens to women, though men can certainly be subject to gender discrimination too.

Racial discrimination

Though it’s illegal, racial discrimination unfortunately persists in the workplace and can come in both indirect and direct forms. It’s not limited to making overt negative comments about a person’s nationality, as it can be as subtle as commenting on a hairstyle.

Managing workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination

Managing workplace discrimination in the workplace: Preventative

• Implement a standard of workplace behaviour that clearly outlines appropriate behaviour and ramifications of not adhering to it.

• Hold regular meetings with managers and supervisors to assess if there are potential situations.

• Clearly define work roles and provide employees the information and training they require to perform tasks.

• Encourage positive leadership styles by providing guidelines and training to managers and supervisors.

• Review and monitor workloads to ensure animosity doesn’t cultivate from unfairly distributed workloads.

Managing workplace bullying: Reactive

• If possible (small companies) stage regular one on one check ins with employees to assess how they’re going in the workplace.

• Monitor incident reports, absenteeism, sick leave and staff turnover to see if there are patterns or common denominators.

• Hold exit interviews when staff leave or provide anonymous surveys. This is often when people will be the most honest about workplace dynamics.

• Utilise the help of a third party to conduct regular check ins with employees. Sometimes, an employee may not feel comfortable breaching a subject directly with an employer.

• Have a clear process for reporting bullying, with the understanding that there will be confidentiality to ensure no vilification or workplace bullying and discrimination occurs.

HR Consulting Services

We hope we’ve given you a good idea on the types of workplace bullying and discrimination to look out for, and some tips for managing workplace bullying. As an employer, it can hard to keep on top of any potential workplace issues before they arise, but workplace bullying tends to cause a snowball effect, which can lead to even bigger issues for your workplace – such as drops in productivity or mass exits. If you require small business HR consulting with creating and implementing HR policies and procedures, get in touch with Bramwell Partners today.