Is Bullying Bringing Your Firm Down?
Workplace bullies come in different shapes and sizes – from seemingly harmless jokers to shockingly hurtful jerks.
Whatever form it takes, bullying is counter-productive and costly.
And it is most likely to occur in high-stress work environments like law offices.
A whopping 37 percent of U.S. workers – or 54 million people – report being bullied at work, according to one poll. Many will suffer anxiety, panic attacks, cardiovascular issues or some other health problem as a result.
“This is a huge problem that is only beginning to get attention because so much of it occurs under the radar screen, and there are no laws to protect targets of bullying,” according to Psychology Today.
Bullies in the Locker Room
Schoolyard bullying has gotten a lot of press in recent years. Investigative reports, court cases and an award-winning documentary film have all drawn attention to the issue.
But bullies on the job have been largely overlooked.
That is, until recently, when Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin quit the team and sought medical treatment for emotional problems allegedly stemming from locker-room hazing.
Some said the incident lifted the curtain on the widespread problem of bullying in professional football. Others blamed Martin for lacking what it takes to play in the NFL.
One point was indisputable: the entire sad episode was bad for business – not just for the Dolphins but for the NFL in general.
Words Can Sometimes Hurt You
Bullying in the workplace can occur through:
- Verbal abuse.
- Threats, humiliation or intimidation (subtle or overt).
- Conduct that interferes with or prevents work from getting done.
The rub is that state and federal laws do not generally prohibit job bullying until it rises to the level of discrimination or harassment.
“It’s very serious because it destroys people’s health, jobs and careers,” said Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington. “It’s a major, major problem, but it’s not illegal, so employers don’t have to deal with it.”
Bullies in the Law Office
Being proactive in recognizing and eliminating bullying in your office can mean lower absenteeism, higher morale and better client service.
Here are four ways to do just that:
- Recognize bullying when it happens. Educate yourself on signs and symptoms of bullying. Listen to staff complaints. Talk about the problem openly.
- Take action. Bullying often takes place behind closed doors. When it happens out in the open, it is important to act immediately. This might involve nothing more than a few words of admonition.
- Quash idle chatter. Tap into the office grapevine to see if specific individuals are being targeted for gossip, jokes and rumors. This is often a precursor to outright bullying.
- Hold people accountable. “In order to make a true commitment to stopping workplace bullying and protecting targets, organizations need to create anti-bullying policies and leaders need to enforce them. Ideally, it can be part of a larger safe workplace initiative - one that protects the rights and dignity of all workers. It is a policy that will pay off for the organization as it becomes more productive and a healthy and happy place to work.”
You want employees who enjoy coming to the office and feel safe when they get there. Without this baseline level of comfort, a healthy law office can quickly sink into dysfunction.
Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact email@example.com, phone 919-619-2441.
- Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201105/four-steps-stopping-workplace-bullies
- Workplacebullying.org http://www.workplacebullying.org/category/workplace-bullying-laws/
- Forbes http://www.forbes.com/2008/03/22/health-bullying-office-forbeslife-cx_avd_0324health.html
- Professional Liability Matters http://professionalliabilitymatters.com/2013/11/14/workplace-bullying-more-than-a-dolphins-problem/