I have been asked many questions about bullying throughout my career, but there is one question I can never seem to escape: What is the difference between workplace bullying and harassment?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) website, harassment is unwelcome conduct that “becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”
|How can you implement a culture that’s harassment free? Join Catherine Mattice and Jerry Carbo as they present, “Civility at Work: Build a Legally Enforceable Culture of Respect,” on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. Mattice and Carbo will illustrate the legal steps employers may take and the legal limits of controlling employees’ speech and maintaining civility in the workplace. Click here to learn more, and to register today!|
Sounds like workplace bullying to me. So, what’s the catch?
The EEOC’s description comes with the caveat that harassment is, “unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”
Why are we so hung up on whether the behaviors are aimed at a protected class? If they are—it’s harassment and it’s illegal and we do an investigation. If they are not—it’s bullying and we don’t think it’s a big deal. Or maybe we consider it to be conflict, or an interpersonal problem for people to resolve themselves. That just doesn’t make any sense when the behavior is the same.
How can you eradicate this behavior without the law to back you up?
First and foremost, use your performance management system. There aren’t any laws about whether you can fire people for poor performance, but we do it all the time. There aren’t any laws about whether you can fire people for bullying, but we’re afraid to. Do you find that as odd as I do?
Bullying is a performance issue. It’s hindering the performance of others, and its poor performance on the part of “the bully.” Showing up late, stealing, lying about meeting quotas … you would have no problem disciplining someone for these behaviors. You should have no problem disciplining someone for bullying.
So, measure your workforce against your core values. If one of your core values is integrity, for example, then “a bully” would naturally be marked down on their performance evaluation sheet. They might also be marked down in other areas, such as communication skills and teamwork.
Then, hopefully, their promotion or bonus would be withheld until they adjust their behavior, given that they are operating sub-par against their quality measurements.
Implement a Healthy Workplace Policy
Another tip is to implement a healthy workplace corporate policy (while most of my colleagues suggest an antibullying corporate policy). Your corporate policy handbook is already full of things people should not do—why not add in a policy about what they should do?
In order to gain buy-in for your new policy, seek help from your employees to write it. During your next staff meeting or harassment training, break your attendees into groups of three or four, and give them 10 minutes to brainstorm answers to the question: “How would you like to be treated by your peers and managers”?
After the brainstorming time is over, ask each group to share their answers, and put them in your policy. You can get the full instructions for this process here.
Get Leadership on Board
In order to implement this new policy, of course you need leadership on board. To achieve that, they’ll need information about liability and data on the damages bullying causes. Make sure to share charts, graphs, and stats on the financial repercussions of allowing bullying to thrive.
What about the NLRB?
Now, I know what you’re thinking. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says you can’t dictate a happy and healthy workplace. In a weird way, I kind of get it. They say organizing can’t happen without discontent, and if you require people to be happy they can’t be discontent, and thus can’t organize.
But, not allowing workplace bullying is not the same as requiring people to be happy. You can, absolutely, require that abuse be prohibited.
And, be sure you have strong communication channels in place to take in those complaints from your discontent employees.
The government doesn’t seem to be taking action any time soon, so we must take matters into our own hands. HR professionals, managers, and leaders all have the ability to change workplace cultures in a way that singles out bullies—and they can be given the choice to conform to more respectful behaviors or take themselves down the path of discipline, up to and including termination.
Join us on May 24 for an all-new webinar on civility and respect in the workplace that will illustrate the legal steps employers may take and the legal limits of controlling employees’ speech and maintaining civility in the workplace. Click here for more information.
|Catherine M. Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, universities, hospitals, government agencies, small businesses, and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared as an expert in major news outlets including NPR, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Psychology Today, and Bloomberg.
Mattice is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter, and one of the founders (and current president of) the National Workplace Bullying Coalition. In his foreword to her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, Ken Blanchard said it was “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook” on workplace bullying. BACK OFF, and her second book, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying, are both available on Amazon.
SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying, offers a total of 10 steps to take in order to not only eradicate workplace bullying, but actually replace it with a positive and engaged workforce and environment.