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Arlene Soto

Q: How do I ensure my small business is a bully free workplace?

A: Bullying in the workplace is a serious issue businesses face. If it’s present, it can cost a business due to lost productivity, legal issues, low morale and a hostile work environment. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, the definition of workplace bullying is “ ... repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms: verbal abuse; offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating; work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done."

The Workplace Bullying Institute is an online source of information, training and resources to help businesses and individuals eradicate bullying in their environment.

Bullying is typically driven by the perpetrators need to control others or be recognized by upper management. According to studies 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand. In most cases, the bullying is not illegal, defined as the harassment of a person in a protected class, but is part of an unhealthy business culture. Bullying can be very expensive in a workplace including:

  • Costs of employee sick days.
  • Quality work and employee engagement are nearly impossible.
  • Loss of good employees who find more supportive environments to work in.
  • Investigative costs to find out what really happened.
  • Training costs to help change the company culture to be more supportive of all employees.

To curb workplace bullying upper management must take a pro-active role. Some techniques to improve the workplace culture follow. Establish policies that communicate zero tolerance for bullying behaviors and enforce them in the workplace. Provide anti-bullying training for staff at all levels but particularly management who have a role in eliminating the bullying behaviors. Provide a means for employees to report bullying that does not punish the victim. Provide an employee wellness program that includes stress reduction counseling. Request an exit interview when staff members quit to determine if the work environment or business culture was part of their reason for leaving. Find resources to assist in redefining the corporate culture to become a bully free workplace. The Small Business Development Center network, is a good starting point.

Setting the tone for a healthy work environment is the responsibility of owners and upper management. Inappropriate employee behavior such as bullying, once identified, needs to be corrected either through intervention or termination of the bully. It’s often difficult for upper management to eliminate the problem because of the relationship they have established with the bully, promoting them because their aggressive behavior looked beneficial for the company previously but choosing to heal the business culture will be more beneficial overall.

The SBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, the Oregon Business Development Department and Southwestern Oregon Community College. Arlene M. Soto has been the Director of the Southwestern Small Business Development Center since July 2007. To ask a question call 541-888-7001, e-mail, or write 1988 Newmark Ave., Coos Bay, OR 97420. Additional help is available at the OSBDCN Web page