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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Workplace bullying and the supervisor's responsibility to stop it

Statistics from the Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention show that one in three employees personally experiences bullying at some point in their working lives. At any given time, one out of every 10 employees is a target of workplace bullying. Nearly half of all American workers (49 percent) have been affected by workplace bullying, either being a target themselves or having witnessed abusive behavior against a co-worker.

As the supervisor of a workgroup, it is your responsibility to maintain a safe and comfortable working environment for all of your employees. Supervisors are responsible for setting expectations on employee behavior and holding the employee accountable for meeting the expectations. Below are things that you can do to prevent a bully from entering your workgroup, or to deal with them if they are already there.

  • Interview well � don't go with your gut! Bullies are very good at manipulating people in authority. They will tell you what they think you want to hear. Instead, look for indicators of empathy. Ask the candidate to tell you how they've handled sensitive personnel problem in the past. Does the candidate's answer reflect compassion for a subordinate or co-worker, or does it have elements of bragging, triumph, or rigid authoritarianism? When bona fide leaders are faced with a difficulty, they stop, look, and listen � and then devise a plan furthering the employer's interests. Not so with bullies. Be sure to do reference checks.

  • Identify whether a bully already exists in your workforce. Notice the absenteeism rate for your area � are there any sudden changes? Take complaints from your employees seriously, even if you find them hard to believe. Monitor the workplace relationships of your employees: Have things gotten worse between certain people? Remember that the bully will act differently to you than he or she will to others.

  • Establish expectations of appropriate behavior, and develop a mechanism for staff to make their concerns or complaints known.

  • Investigate concerns and complaints thoroughly.

  • Pet with the bully to discuss the concerns raised, develop a plan to modify the behavior, and to repair relationships that have been broken. Establish a timeframe for improvement.

  • Communicate the potential consequences of failing to improve.

  • Monitor the behavior and hold the person accountable for their future behavior.

Contact your Employee Relations consultant before you implement the steps above if you feel you have a bully in the workplace. We can help you work through these steps and develop a plan for your situation.

- Connie Reckowsky
Employee Relations

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LeadingEdition is an electronic newsletter for Purdue University supervisors.  It is produced and distributed by Purdue University Human Resources four times annually.  If you have questions, comments or suggestions relating to the newsletter, please call 49-41679 or email us.  Thank you.