On Oct. 19, the Municipality of Anchorage established a workplace bullying policy that invites city employees who experience or observe workplace bullying to report it, without fear of retaliation. The policy defines a workplace end goal in which all employees are treated with respect and lets those who bully know that they face discipline and potentially termination.
What will it take for other employers to follow suit? They need to understand the importance of having a bullying policy in place, what it takes to implement an effective policy, what to expect once they create the policy and how it protects their organization.
According to the 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey, three to four out of every 10 employees experience bullying in their workplace. Bullying -- defined as psychological violence; aggressive manipulation; repeated, intentional humiliation or intimidation; or the sabotage of an employee's work performance -- poisons employee morale, damages productivity and rips apart an organization's culture.
Can an organization truly tackle workplace bullying? Absolutely -- if leaders commit to five steps.
First, leaders need to model respectful treatment toward all employees, as actions speak louder than words.
Second, leaders need to put in place a policy against bullying, or at least a code of conduct that defines how leaders want managers and employees to treat each other and the organization's clients or customers.
Third, leaders need to establish a viable grievance channel that offers those with concerns reasonable confidentiality. Because bullies often kiss up and kick down, an organization's leaders can be the last to know that bullies target those they consider prey. Also, employees targeted by bullies may feel reluctant to come forward, fearing retaliation by the bully or that the organization may perceive them as the problem. Further, those who handle allegations need to be able to distinguish between legitimate and bogus concerns.
Fourth, leaders need to intervene if they discover managers or employees have violated the policy. Intervention often starts with investigation, as some individuals unfairly label others as bullies. Tools that help identify whether bullying actually occurs include neutrally-conducted interviews and methods that offer employees safe forums for telling the truth about what's happening in the workplace, such as employee surveys and 360-degree reviews.
Fifth, managers and employees need training to learn how to handle bullying without becoming themselves aggressive, defensive or falling into other classic traps, such as trying to appease, isolating themselves or stooping to the bully's level.
What happens when organizations don't act to end workplace bullying?
In 2014, a salesman won a $2 million award against Microsoft, after a court ruled that key Microsoft managers had created a hostile environment, undermining the salesman's work, making false accusations against him, blocking him from promotions and otherwise marginalizing him.
In 2012, a California appeals court held an employer liable for employees' off-duty harassment of a disabled co-worker on a blog. The court held that the employer knew the blog existed and should have taken prompt remedial measures. Espinoza won $820,000. Also in 2012, a DISH Network employee won $270,000 after he proved his supervisor verbally and physically abused him, didn't listen to his complaints, and failed to protect coworkers from the supervisor's violent outbursts.
Is your organization immune from workplace bullying problems? Probably not. The 2014 study documents that 37 million U.S. workers report facing "abusive conduct" during their work day and another 28.7 million workers state they've witnessed bullying in their workplace.
You may need a policy or at least an enforced code of conduct -- and need it by yesterday.
Dr. Lynne Curry is author of "Solutions" and owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.workplacecoachblog.com and www.bullywhisperer.com.