Are some of your employees bullying others? As an employer, you might think that everyone in your team gets along well—but there might be bullying going on unnoticed.

You may also feel that how people get along with one another is their business, not yours. However, you have a responsibility to ensure your employees are being treated well at work. Plus, bullying can lead to high turnover, poor morale, and damaged productivity on your team. Here’s what you can do:

#1: Understand What Bullying Behavior Looks Like in the Workplace

Workplace bullies, just like childhood ones, might make mean comments, play mean pranks, or even call someone a nasty name. But they can also be more subtle, which means it’s important for employers to have a clear idea of what bullying in the workplace looks like.

Top Tip: Workplace bullies are often good at hiding what they’re doing. Sometimes, they can even look like a star performer. They may take the credit for other people’s work – or deliberately sabotage colleagues’ work to make themselves look good.

#2: Understand the Effects of Bullying

Workplace bullying can be very harmful, particularly if the victim was also bullied as a child. Victims of childhood bullying often suffer from depression, anxiety, or panic disorders (read more here). If that’s the case for one of your employees, being bullied at work could lead to real suffering.

Even if the effects of bullying aren’t so serious as that, they can still be damaging. Bullying can interfere with your employees’ ability to do their work, and it can easily foster a negative culture within your team.

Top Tip: Never take bullying lightly. It can have serious and long-lasting effects on people’s lives.

#3: Make Sure YOU Aren’t a Bully

You might be horrified to think that your behavior could be perceived as bullying… but as an employer, you’re in a position of power over your employees, and even an ill-thought remark could be worrying or upsetting to someone on your team.

Make sure your employees feel supported and encouraged by you. Try to ensure you offer thanks and appreciation: tell people what they’re doing right as well as give critical feedback where necessary. Don’t micromanage your employees, either. You might be worried about how they’ll cope with working remotely—but trust them to do a good job, and pay attention to outcomes, rather than using tracking software or asking them to be on video all day long so you can see that they’re at their desk.

Top Tip: If you know that you react poorly in some situations (e.g. you get angry and yell at employees) then take steps to change that. You’ll get the best out of your employees when they feel safe and supported, not when they feel miserable and scared of you.

#4: Understand and Tackle Cyberbullying

While cyberbullying is particularly common among young people, it’s also an issue in the workplace—particularly with the rise of remote working in 2020.

Cyberbullying can take lots of different forms. It can involve nasty comments, harassing messages, or even unsolicited sexual advances. It might also mean things like deliberately leaving people out of virtual meetings, not copying them in on emails, or not responding to their messages. Cyberbullying might well take place outside of work platforms (e.g. on Twitter or Facebook). You can, and should, still take action against it.

Top Tip: Be particularly alert to online harassment that targets employees on the basis of their race, religion, or sexuality.

What If YOU Are Being Bullied?

If you’re the one being bullied or harassed at work, you can:

  • Speak up. If a colleague is behaving in a bullying or unpleasant way, say something to them, like, “Please don’t yell at me.” Be polite, but firm.
  • Talk to your manager or your HR team. If you’re not making any progress by tackling the behavior with the bully, then get help.
  • Keep records. If the bullying is verbal or physical, keep a note of it. If it’s in the form of emails or written messages, keep copies. You may need to show these to HR or your manager.
  • Remember it’s not your fault. People bully for many reasons. If you’re being bullied, it’s not because you’re a bad or unlikeable person.

As an employer, you need to take bullying seriously. It’s not something you should tolerate in your workplace—not even from high performers. Make sure you have the policies and procedures in place to not only tackle bullying if it happens but also to help prevent it from occurring in the first place.