I get it. We all feel uncomfortable dealing with soft issues at work. It’s as though we think that since we’re all at work, there shouldn’t be the same issues we’d face at school or home. Obviously, that’s not the case.
A good work environment is usually the product of some hard thinking (and soft policing, if you want to be realistic). I think that a part of the problem is that we all have different ideas for what a good work environment looks like. You might prefer an energetic atmosphere – a place where music is playing and people are talking and sharing ideas. I might prefer a quieter environment – a place where conversations are done behind doors or in hushed tones. Both of these environments can be defined as “good,” which just emphasizes that the term “good” is subjective.
Similarly, confusion can reign when discussing what behaviour constitutes office bullying. If we polled everyone at your company for a definition, I’m sure we’d get many different answers. To add further confusion, most people would be shocked to consider that they’ve probably unintentionally said or done something that could be considered bullying. To avoid this, and accusations of over-sensitivity, having a clearly written policy is a must.
After that, the general process for tackling office bullying is straightforward:
- Dust off the workplace bullying policy, and email a copy to everyone in the company. And by everyone, I mean everyone from the loading docks right on up to the CEO. Let them know that it’s time for the annual review (even if this is the first time).
- Company culture is set by the leader. Without buy in from the top, very little change will happen.
- Set a company-wide meeting to discuss the policy. Ask for questions about the policy at the meeting. Give people every opportunity for dialogue at this stage.
- After the meeting, go to zero tolerance on bullying. It might take a few incidents before people realize that a change in behaviour is required.
- Repeat annually.
It’s not impossible to turn the ship around, but it does require some resilience. Good luck!