Stop office bullying

Bullying in the workplace can lead to increased absenteeism, employee turnover, even lawsuits. Here’s how employers can reduce aggressive behavior among employees:

  • Foster improved communication skills. In a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pilot program, for instance, psychologists and others taught employees how to communicate more effectively.

    The program used a technique called Collaborative Action Inquiry. The approach encourages groups to collect data about a problem, then cycle through stages of action and reflection.

    After the training, employees reported less aggression and more satisfaction.

  • Teach employees to understand each other. The Ramsey County, Minn., government uses several strategies to teach employees how to avoid misunderstandings.

    In one exercise, for instance, small groups of co-workers rate how violent they think various behaviors are. One person might think kicking a wall is a healthy way to relieve anger, while another thinks it's a violent act. The discussion helps employees see each other's perspectives.

  • Identify root causes. At one VA center, for instance, the underlying problems were favoritism and union employees' feelings that upper management wasn't hearing their concerns.

    Psychologists urged the union and management to nominate a group of employees to serve on an action team to address the problems.

    After analyzing findings from an employee survey, the team developed a program called "Flake-off Fridays." On Fridays, a manager invites a randomly selected group of employees to a meeting where they can ask questions, bring up concerns or just chat.

    A follow-up survey revealed that bullying and other aggressive behavior decreased as a result. Productivity also increased.

  • Establish a policy of respect. A policy that defines bullying is also important. Ramsey County states its anti-bullying policy on posters and in its employee manual.

    It's not enough just to have a policy, however. Employers must take disciplinary action against any violations, say psychologists.