How to Spot Workplace Bullying

Tips for identifying bullying in the workplace

Business people talking in office
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Spotting workplace bullying is difficult because most bullies do not act out in front of their superiors. Still, business owners, managers and supervisors need to be on the lookout. Burying your head in the sand is never a wise choice because workplace bullies tend to target co-workers who are the best and the brightest employees.

They also try to drive out any employee that they view as threat. Typically, these workers are technically savvy, independent, have good social skills and strong ethics – just the kind of people you want working for you.

When your employees are bullied at work, their creativity suffers and they may even become less productive. Eventually, bullied workers may leave to avoid the stress of working with a bully. Workplace bullying is also disruptive to other employees – especially if they are witnesses. Fear of becoming the next target impedes their growth and productivity too.

There are several ways to spot a workplace bully. These include watching for signs of a bully and watching for signs of a target.

Possible Signs of a Bully

Exhibiting poor impulse control. Bullies with poor impulse control are quick-tempered, tend to yell and use profanity. They also are prone to using insults and calling names.

Attempting to monitor, control or isolate other workers. Workplace bullies may hold surprise meetings as a way to humiliate another person. They also may make surprise appearances in an employee’s work area in an attempt to catch them doing something they should not be doing.

And, they conveniently leave others out of important meetings or e-mails.

Sabotaging the work of others. Bullies tend to discount the accomplishments of others and take credit for things they didn’t do. They also may withhold valuable information from other employees in an effort to sabotage their work performance.

And they threaten subordinates with job loss, set unreasonable schedules, make unrealistic work demands and squash attempts at promotion.

Appearing self-centered or inconsiderate. Bullies are the ones who dominate meetings with interruptions, sarcasm and insults. They also consistently question and criticize other people’s ideas. Additionally, bullies use non-verbal cues to control other employees such as coughing, rolling their eyes, squeaking their chair, tapping a pencil on the table, tapping their foot impatiently and so on.

Talking behind the backs of co-workers. Watch out for people who seem to be “in-the-know” about other people. Some of what they say may be fabricated rumors and gossip. Bullies also tend to make snide remarks about other people. They also make fun of people and criticize others.

Belonging to a clique. Bullies, especially female bullies, are prone to isolating and excluding other workers – especially those that they feel threatened by. These bullies sometimes even have a following or a group of people that appear to dress, talk and act like them.

How to Spot a Target

Watch for changes in behavior. Sometimes it is easier to identify bullying by identifying the target first.

Watch for changes in mood, especially if a formerly outgoing employee suddenly becomes withdrawn and quiet. Remember, bullies are often master manipulators. They will be very good at hiding their controlling and intimidating behavior.

Look for employees that are left out. Take notice if one or two employees are frequently left off e-mails and meeting invite lists. Bullies try to isolate their targets as a way of sabotaging their work efforts and controlling their success in the company.

Dig deeper if a once-productive employee begins to struggle. Sometimes a target is so distracted and stressed out because of bullying that their work will begin to suffer.

Try to find out what is at the root of the poor performance. Although changes in work habits do not always signal bullying, investigating the issue is the wise thing to do.

Pay attention to health complaints. When employees are being bullied, absenteeism will increase. They also will complain frequently of migraines, stomach ailments and other stress-related illnesses. If an employee with a once good attendance record suddenly begins missing work, this is a sign that something is going on.

Listen to your employees. Many times, employees will not actually use the words bullying or abuse to describe what is happening. But take note, if they casually mention that there has been a lot of drama lately. Ask them to describe the drama and try to find out what is taking place. Take seriously all employee complaints. And if someone claims to be the target of the bullying, be sure you investigate the situation right away.