This post is about how to stop bullying in your team when you’re the line manager responsible for that team. I’ve had a number of experiences working with this – working with bullying from people reporting to me, groups of people reporting to me, or people who work with my team and are bullying my team.
Read more below or watch the video.
It isn’t a pleasant experience to go through as a manager, and it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever experienced as a manager. It is a very stressful personal experience. One where you really need to have a structured framework to help you work through the situation to minimise the stress and maximise the opportunity to improve for your team.
The first part of this post is about how to identify bullying in your team and the second one will be about how do you actually go about stopping the bullying.
How to identify bullying in your team.
If you suspect that there’s bullying in your team, I pretty much guarantee that there actually is.
The things to look for include:
- Are people regularly crying in the office or around the office?
- Do you have some people who are suddenly having a lot of extra sick leave or illnesses that seem completely out of character, out of norm, and don’t have really any explanation?
- Do you find that people seem upset, but don’t want to talk about it?
- Do you find that you’ve got a small group of people that are regularly huddled together in and around the office space?
- Do you repeatedly see one or two members of your team excluded from events, huddles or meetings? (Exclusion is a big way to identify bullying and is probably one of the favourite techniques of bullies to impact someone at work).
- Do people have strange nicknames for other people in the team so that they can talk about them openly without being caught?
- Do a small group of people repeatedly bring up issues about one person, which you have never witnessed yourself? (This is a real tactic of bullies is to target someone with made up stuff.)
- Do one or two people in your team seem extremely stressed, panicky, second guessing themselves and losing confidence, with no real explanation?
- Have people come to you with complaints or concerns about those one or two people, about how one of those people are being treated? So often what you’ll find when people are bullying, other people actually will stand up for them. The person being bullied will often have had their confidence so destroyed that they won’t be able to raise the issue themselves and won’t be confident enough to talk through it because they’re afraid – they’re afraid of not being believed.
- Have you had people make up provable lies about someone?
- Have people raised an issue about someone that seems completely out of character and cannot be proven? So again, making up myths, stories and lies to put someone down and exclude them and make them look bad in the workplace, is another favourite of bullies.
- Has one or two people’s work performance slid recently and is there one person that everyone complains about?
The top things there are look for are people being excluded, put down, unsupported in the work place, made fun of.
How do you stop bullying once you’ve identified it?
Get Your Boss’s Support
The first thing is, if you’re in a large organization, get the problem acknowledged by your boss and preferably your boss’ boss as well. The reason that I say that is I have gone about trying to deal with bullying in a work place without my boss’ support and had my boss actively support the people who are doing the bullying because they wanted to be part of the group. I can’t explain that, but it made it really difficult to deal with the bullying because what happens is that as soon as you start to deal with it, the bullies will go to your boss, or someone more senior, to get support and say that they’re being victimized by bullying. So you need to get ahead of that straight away, and I would actually say do not proceed with addressing bullying unless you have that support.
Create a Plan of Action
Work out a plan of action and ensure your HR department, if you’ve got a HR department, is informed and supportive and is very clearly saying what you can and can’t do. Once you’ve got that plan, start to enact it and what you’ll need to do is individually discuss the issues with each bully, making sure that you have a witness present. Ensure that all meetings are minuted and minutes are sent out to all the stakeholders. Ensure you have at least a weekly meeting to discuss with your boss what is happening, if not daily.
Also ensure you have a meeting with the person being bullied, but I will deal with that in a separate post, because that’s a whole different strategy.
The Bully Must Acknowledge the IMPACT of their behaviour
The key is, the bully must acknowledge the problem, the bully must accept the negative impact of their behaviour, the bully must apologise directly to that individual and preferably publicly as well with the team. The bully must commit to change, the bully must immediately demonstrate change.
Those are the things that you have to work on, and nothing is going to change until you have all of that in place.
If you’ve got a gang of bullies, split them up. They cannot sit together, preferably they shouldn’t be working together, you’ll have to rearrange assignments and projects, whatever it is, you need to make sure that you separate those people.
Remove the person being bullied from that group. So if there’s someone who’s sitting in a group, say a group of four, and three of them are bullying one person, that person you’ve got to get them away from that group because they’re basically in an unsafe situation, and nothing’s going to improve until you disperse this whole group and the whole culture that’s happening there, and separating people so they’re not sitting together is a very quick, simple way to do that.
Everyone involved, including yourself as the manager, is going to be going through an incredible amount of stress, and there’s probably been a lot of stress leading up to the bullying being dealt wtih. Make sure that you are getting regular counseling, coaching and support yourself. And I would recommend weekly counselling for yourself as a manager.
Time box it.
No more than eight weeks to get change to happen before you go into formal performance management. When you’ve exhausted all avenues then you need to make sure that you are aware of all the paths in the HR policy and performance management to addressing the bullying, and make sure you have a HR person on board.
The other thing I would get is legal advice. If you can’t get it via your company, get independent legal advice on if the behaviour is in fact criminal, and what your role in this means from a legal perspective and what happens if you’re not able to stop it.
Make sure you document everything.
I really hope that helps people. This is my framework for stopping bullying. I have used it, it is effective, but it’s only effective if the bully acknowledges their behaviour.
What you need to remember about bullying is that, the key questions you need to ask yourself is, is your workplace safe, mentally, emotionally and physically?
Is the person being bullied safe, and do they consider themselves safe?
Questions to ask bullies are:
- Does your behaviour create a safe place for everyone in the team?
- What are you doing to make the workplace safe or not safe?
- What behaviour will you stop immediately, and what will you do now to make sure that that person feels is 100% safe and they feel safe all the time?
That ends the lesson.