The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 Workplace Bullying Survey concluded that one in four Americans are being bullied at work. Sadly, the survey also determined that resolution of such issues were not done by dealing with the bully directly, rather the target of the bullying either quit or was fired, transferred, or otherwise forced out.

Even in the absence of physical violence, bullying is a form of aggression and abuse and should be dealt with as part of your workplace violence prevention efforts. In some cases, it may also fall under anti-discrimination laws (for example, harassment laws). It is important that such anti-harassment policies exist and are present in your employee handbook.

Preventing workplace bullying

Who needs to be trained in workplace bullying prevention? It has been determined that most workplace bullies are managers, supervisors or someone who is in a position of authority. It is possible however that bullying comes from co-worker or peer , therefore it’s important to train all employees on the effects of bullying.

Why train workers in workplace bullying prevention? Bullying is a type of workplace violence and left unaddressed can lead to physical aggression. Even short of that, bullying can be an invisible drain on your productivity, causing targeted workers and those who are uncomfortable with the situation to avoid the workplace by calling in sick, going home early, coming in late, or staying longer at lunch.

Identifying workplace bullies

While the schoolyard bully may use physical tactics to intimidate, few workplace bullies find it necessary to sit on their victims and twist their arms. Workplace bullying, which is a form of workplace violence, is a little different, although it may resemble other forms of abuse, including domestic violence.

Have you been targeted by the office bully? Maybe so, if any of the behaviors below sound uncomfortably familiar to you:

  • Verbal abuse. Bullies may scream or swear, call their victims names, or constantly criticize or threaten them.
  • Hostility. Bullies may use threatening, intimidating, or cruel behaviors toward victims. They may give their victims dangerous work assignments, steal from their victims, or even plant evidence of crime (such as illegal drugs) in the victim’s desk or car.
  • Deliberate humiliation. Bullies may set their victims up for public humiliation—for example, by calling their victim into a meeting and then doing something that embarrasses the victim.
  • Malicious actions. More than 70 percent of bullies are bosses. They may use their position to give victims an undeserved poor performance review; deny them advancement, benefits, or perquisites; or steal credit for their work.
  • Interference. Bullies may sabotage their victims by destroying or damaging their work—for example, by deleting important computer files or reports or not providing information that their victims need to do their jobs.
  • Isolation tactics. Like domestic abusers, bullies may isolate their victims from others—for example, by excluding victims from important meetings or social networking opportunities or by spreading damaging rumors and then recruiting gullible coworkers to give their victims “the silent treatment” or otherwise ostracize their victim.

Training workers to deal with workplace bullies

Bullies can be hard to spot and hard to deal with. They can be a nightmare for their victims at the same time that they behave completely appropriately around superiors and other coworkers. Their explanations for conflict with their victims can seem plausible to their bosses, with whom they often enjoy good relations.

If they’ve been victimized by a bully, workers may think it’s not worth it to bother reporting this behavior—they may fear the bully, their self-image may be damaged by the bullying, or they may believe the behavior is “just part of the job.” But your employees should be aware that they should always report abusive or aggressive behavior because this behavior:

  • May be illegal. Workplace bullying is not generally illegal, but if it crosses a line into physical or sexual harassment, or involves a member of a protected group, laws may apply.
  • Violates company policy. Even when a bully’s behavior violates no law, it violates company policy. Consequences for bullying behavior are outlined in our company’s violence prevention and anti-harassment policies.
  • Will be investigated. Complaints about bullying behavior will be thoroughly investigated, and appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.

Bullying is a form of workplace violence and should not be tolerated. Once you recognize a bully, take appropriate action so the workplace will be less toxic for everyone.