How to Handle the Workplace Bully

Bullying today isn’t just taking place on playgrounds, instead it is a reality found everywhere from elementary schools to college campuses and even the workplace. Having a bully in your small business can affect team morale, productivity and of course, your bottom line.

Polly Wright, senior consultant for HR Consults, said bullying in businesses of all sizes is very common today. It often begins with cliques in the workplace, or managers with anger issues and bad tempers.

"I really think it takes a toll on morale, to the point where employees are so disengaged in their work environment that they are going through the motions," Wright said. "They just go through their day with the least amount of interaction with bullies as possible."

There are also varying levels of bullying that need to be addressed with managers and employees, she said.

"It looks a little different between men and women," Wright said. "Usually males are yelling and screaming and slamming phones, and females are more in the cliques and circulating rumors—this is a very broad generalization."

Bullying has the same negative impact on victims as harassment, she said. Many of the workplace policies Wright has been working on have included a phrase about bullying, she said.

"As employers, we should be handling that just as we would an unlawful harassment," Wright said.

Here are Wright's steps for handling a bully in the workplace:

No. 1: Train your managers. Make sure your managers are well aware of what the legal line of harassment is and what crosses it.

"As an organization, don't you want to operate at the best practice line, treating everyone with fairness?" she said. Even things like swearing in the office can be considered harassment, Wright said. "Although it's not unlawful, that can sometimes be the start of behaviors that are disrespectful and can move into the bullying arena.

No. 2: Investigate. Although workers may resolve conflicts among themselves, once a complaint is filed with HR, Wright said an investigation must take place.

"Find out what level of bullying it is,” she said. “Is someone truly bullying someone else, or is it more mild?"

No. 3: Address the issue. Once the level of bullying is determined, the bully and victim need to be spoken to, and depending on the severity, appropriate actions should take place.

"All levels of bullying should be addressed, and I do think training supervisors is important," Wright said. "Depending on the culture of the organization, bullying might have been tolerated for years."