Why Prevention of Bullying?

The prevention of workplace bullying must be approached like any other hazard, through a workplace and hazard analysis, research and compilation of the data collected, consultation with all appropriate management personnel, the hiring or contracting of expert services that are suited to recommend a plan of action, the development of the plan and its incorporation into the company's overall safety and health plan, and the assignment of roles and responsibilities. (Putting a plan into action includes the necessary training of management; the rollout of the plan, including the implementation of training and awareness of all employees; and finally, a method of measurement of the impact of the plan that will prove positive results. In the process, it may be necessary to address existing problems, as they are uncovered, through counseling, discipline, or other means.)

In establishing a plan and making it a part of corporate culture that is in line with business goals, you must be careful to use the appropriate resources to understand bullying and prevent it from becoming a workplace hazard. There are specific experts in a variety of fields who can be tapped for guidance. Certainly, a company safety and health officer should take the lead in the organization, and actions should be taken. A list of professionals who could be consulted would include industrial and occupational psychologists, occupational therapists, occupational physicians, occupational health nurses, risk management professionals, industrial security specialists, design or process engineers, organizational psychologists, and other organizational consultants.

Other specific tools can help analyze the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has voluntary and advisory guidelines relating to workplace violence, stress reduction, conflict resolution, risk assessment, and health issues related to this hazard. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has similar resources available. Many other private organizations will provide information and leads to professionals who practice the services needed. Of course, all of these organizations should be used throughout the process of developing and implementing the plan.

The tools for understanding the problem of or potential for bullying, as a workplace hazard, are similar to those used to assess workplace violence, stress, and mental and physical health. They include the following: analysis of existing records; the monitoring of trends, incidents, and illness; employee and management surveys; focus groups; performance reviews; administrative and organizational procedure review; security and risk assessment; as well as outside observation of the business operation to lend an unbiased view of current activities.

One of the areas that managers spend considerable time on is conflict resolution. It may be as much as 20% of their time. Effective training in conflict resolution can help managers not only deal with bullies and their targets but also manage themselves and their own behavior. Additional training might include the general employee population on how to deal with conflict, change, and competition. Union representatives may also be able to provide training, advice, and mediation among employees they represent. Key points to bring into any of this training are the need for open communication, management commitment to address and prevent bullying, and a no-retaliation policy for those who bring any hazard to the attention of management. Most of all, convince people to bring bullying out into the open, and expose bullies for what they are and the damage that is done.

Management must take corrective action, uphold company policy, and administer disciplinary procedures up to and including termination. The rules and policies should already be in place to set and communicate expectations, measure performance against those expectations, provide feedback, manage poor performance with corrective actions, and document everything.

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