As many of you know, managing a small team, or even a full department, can be stressful to say the least. While trying to motivate your employees and maintain a strong morale, you are also putting out fires and prioritizing tasks.

Working in close quarters with others can naturally bring on all kinds of disputes—both big and small. That’s why it’s important for managers to be aware of their employees’ behavior and treatment towards one another.

Disagreements are one thing, but there might be greater conflicts at play. Monitor your team for bullying or harassment and take steps to address this behavior before it escalates.


Bullying encompasses any repeated physical or mental harm that one person inflicts on another. A bully uses threatening, humiliating, offensive, or intimidating behavior that hurts a fellow employee’s self-esteem or affects their ability to perform at work.

Bullying is usually caused by an individual’s need to control another person to further their own agenda (e.g. sabotaging someone’s work so they can get a promotion).

It is not always easy to identify bullying, especially when it’s behind closed doors. As a manager with many tasks and people to keep track of, the line between workplace banter and bullying is often blurred.

Here are some common signs of bullying:

  • Constant criticism or belittling of another person or their work
  • Purposely excluding others from conversations/meetings
  • Manipulating information or changing expectations (e.g. withholding information from a colleague)
  • Insults or threats
  • Humiliation in front of colleagues (e.g. playing a practical joke on another employee)
  • Blame, anger, or aggression towards another employee
  • Noticeable depression, isolation, lack of productivity or quality of work from an employee
  • Stress or tension in the work environment
  • Absent employees
  • Circulating rumors or gossip

Discrimination and Harassment

Episodes of bullying can be motivated by discrimination, which is a serious offense in the workplace.

Discrimination is any bullying that is motivated by prejudice. There are many forms of discrimination that exist, including discrimination against:

  • Race: mistreatment on the grounds of ethnic origin or color
  • Age: treating someone differently based on their age
  • Beliefs: harassment because of someone’s political, social, or religious beliefs
  • Gender: prejudicing someone based on their sex
  • Disability: any mistreatment because of a person’s mental or physical disabilities
  • Pregnancy: mistreating women who are pregnant
  • Citizenship status: bias derived from a person’s nationality or immigration status
  • Sexual orientation: harassment because of someone’s sexual preferences

When an employee bullies someone because of any of these traits, it can be considered harassment.

There are several anti-discrimination laws in place to protect workers from employment bias, which prohibits anyone in the workplace from harassing others due to their age, ethnicity, gender, etc.

To be on the lookout for discrimination, managers should monitor their team for discriminatory signs that are consistent with bullying:

  • Demeaning/offensive remarks, name calling, or any other negative comments about a person’s physical or mental capabilities/appearance
  • Physical threats or acts of violence that are discriminatory in nature
  • Slanderous comments, rumors, or malicious gossip about other employees
  • Racist or homophobic jokes, pranks, comments, or photos

There is another element of harassment that many workplaces do identify and that is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can include:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Repeated social invitations in spite of rejection
  • Inappropriate personal questions
  • Stalking someone (e.g. waiting for them outside of work)

The Effects of Workplace Bullying

Bullying can have severe effects on the victim, including emotional and physical stress that can induce a whole list of symptoms, including fatigue, anxiety, frustration, anger, and insomnia. It can also affect businesses by creating a hostile work environment, lowering productivity and worker satisfaction, and damaging an employer’s reputation— which can hurt future recruiting and retention efforts.

How to Prevent Conflict

The workplace is where people spend the majority of their time. It should be a place of respect, and not hostility. Employers should try to prevent bullying from ever becoming a problem by adopting a proactive anti-bullying approach.

Because bullying is not technically illegal, it is up to the employer to create formal policies to protect workers, which should include a code of conduct for employees to follow.

The policy should outline:

  • The definition of bullying
  • What is considered bullying and a list of unacceptable behavior
  • How to report bullying and a system for lodging confidential complaints
  • The consequences of bullying
  • Ways to prevent bullying
  • An ongoing educational commitment towards training employees about bullying and harassment

You might wish to push for a zero tolerance policy towards bullying, which simply means that any bullying acts will result in the appropriate consequences.

When a new employee joins your team, you can walk them through your policies during their first few days. Offer existing employees regular training so they are always up-to-date on the matter.

Responding to Conflict

If you notice that a worker is mistreating their colleague or an employee approaches you with a complaint, there are a number of steps you can take to resolve the situation.

  • First, respond by assessing the entire situation and its risks, including speaking and listening to the parties involved, or intervening immediately if you witness any harassment.
  • Second, investigate the allegations and get your facts in place. If you have workplace policies on bullying, refer to your guide and follow the rules for employee misconduct as you have laid out, whether that is adhering to the zero tolerance policy, or devising an alternative way to reprimand the employee as you see fit. Whatever the case, hold the bully accountable.

Every situation is different, and the consequences will vary with your employee, the misconduct, and your procedures. You may wish to issue a warning, or for more severe offences that constitute termination, let that employee go.

Lead by Example

Bullying continues to be a problem for many businesses because it is enabled by managers who overlook or avoid dealing with these issues. Essentially, how you react to these situations can either prevent or perpetuate this abuse.

By monitoring the workplace and responding to complaints promptly, you are setting a positive example for your staff and nurturing a safe, healthy, and supportive work environment. So that way, when your employees leave at the end of the day, they feel confident in not only their job, but in their leader as well.

What does your company do to prevent bullying?

Posted by Kristy DeSmit

Kristy is a blogger, Twitter enthusiast, and company legalese interpreter.