Diversity Insight

Rooting out bullying a necessary step in promoting diversity

Employers looking to advance diversity in the workplace often focus on recruiting diverse groups of potential employees, but recruiting is just one part of the process. Those recruiting efforts won’t be effective if management is blind to a culture that condones workplace bullying.  Big boss yelling to her employee with megaphone on fire

October is a time when attention turns to bullying in a variety of settings, schools in particular. But bullying at work takes a toll too, and the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) has designated October 15-21 as Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week.

The WBI 2017 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey reports that 19 percent of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work. Another 19 percent have witnessed workplace bullying, and 63 percent are aware that it happens. The WBI’s statistics show that 60.3 million U.S. workers are affected by workplace bullying either by direct experience or by having witnessed bullying at work.

What to do

Jill M. Smith, executive director for consulting firm WorkPlace HR, LLC, offered suggestions for employers in a January 2017 article for Federal Employment Law Insider. She suggests informing employees of the company’s commitment to valuing and respecting everyone. Employees need to understand that they “will be held to the highest standard of civility in the workplace and anything less than an atmosphere of mutual respect, teamwork, honesty, and personal integrity is unacceptable,” she wrote.

Leaders also need to be taught “how to manage a workforce that is shifting from being warm and friendly to being boorish and mean,” Smith wrote. “Give them the tools they need to lead by example.”

Keep eyes open

Maureen Duffy, a workplace consultant, educator, and author, also offers advice on how to handle bullying in the workplace. She reminds employers that the problem isn’t always confined to an individual. Often “mobbing” is the problem. She defines mobbing as nonsexual harassment of a coworker by a group of members of an organization for the purpose of removing a targeted individual from the organization or at least a particular unit of the organization.

Duffy says mobbing often results in humiliation, devaluation, and discrediting of the target along with a loss of professional reputation and often the removal of the victim from the organization through termination, extended medical leave, or quitting. She points out that mobbing and bullying aren’t single episodes or brief conflicts. Instead, mobbing and bullying take place as part of a pattern of abusive behavior that continues for a period of time and results in harm to the targets.

To combat the problem of bullying and mobbing, Duffy urges employers to take stock of themselves and not take a “hear no evil, see no evil, do no evil” approach. She offers these best practices for preventing and addressing bullying:

  • Accept and own the problem as an organizational problem rather than as a “difficult” individual employee problem.
  • Acknowledge mobbing and bullying as potential or actual organizational concerns.
  • Include identifying and monitoring progress in creating and maintaining a respectful workplace as part of the organization’s strategic plan. This practice incorporates respectfulness as part of the organizational culture.
  • Invest in anti-mobbing and anti-bullying policy development and training for all – administrators, managers, HR, and all employees.
  • Provide ongoing education and related resources to managers, HR, employees, and support personnel. For programs to be effective, training can’t be a “one-shot deal.”
  • Implement fair and consistent processes for formal and informal complaint resolution.

Bullies and their targets

The 2017 WBI survey reports a number of findings, including the role of gender and race in bullying, health impacts, the rank of perpetrators in the workplace, and the reactions of targets. Among the findings:

  • 70 percent of perpetrators of abusive conduct are men, and 66 percent of all targeted workers are women.
  • Hispanic and African-American targets are bullied at higher rates than the national rate.
  • 40 percent of targets are believed to suffer adverse health consequences from bullying.
  • 61 percent of bullies are bosses, and in 63 percent of incidents, the perpetrator operates alone.
  • 29 percent of targets remain silent, and only 17 percent seek formal resolution.


Need to learn more? Join us at AEIS 2017: Advanced Employment Issues Symposium, which will include the breakout session Culture Club:  The Link Between Workplace Culture and Workplace Harassment Claims.  When the workplace culture perpetuates these types of unlawful activities under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or other laws, employers are at extreme risk of costly lawsuits—not to mention irreparable damage to the company’s reputation and brand, employee morale, and other negative consequences. This session explore recent cases illustrating the ways in which aggressive business practices may foster a culture that breeds harassment claims  and how to evaluate whether company leaders’ messages and tone aligns with your efforts to maintain a harassment-free culture. For more information, click here.