Team approach to workplace bullying vital

| June 23, 2021

Businesses facing workplace bullying issues should take a team approach.  Solutions are not binary as bullying behaviours impact the entire organisation and all staff in some way.

Productivity declines, absenteeism increases and profits can be effected in unsafe workplaces. Operational, financial and mental health impacts whole teams whilst colleagues can spend considerable time consoling targets and preventing an exodus.

Why a team approach?

Firstly, bullies can be oblivious to the inappropriateness of their behaviours. People with   chronic patterns of abrasive or bullying conduct generally have had those behaviours reinforced by a lifetime of learning.

Aggressive behaviours were learnt as a child, refined in the sandpits of school and taken unchallenged into the workplace.  These abrasive and combative behaviours have been normalised and not seen as unacceptable or inappropriate.

Secondly, when feedback is delivered to perpetrators, it comes from HR, a senior manager or director and not the target directly. Hence the full impact and damage is watered down

And often the person/s delivering feedback may also be fearful of the bully and their reactions. The default is to take an ‘easy softly’ approach which downplays the severity resulting in little or no meaningful action.

Engaging whole teams in the feedback process helps identify specific negative behaviours. This forces the bully to take off the blinders to their impact.  It also provides confidence in the process which leads to positive behavioural changes.

Evidence based structural frameworks

For sustainable and significant change, an evidence based structural framework is essential.  A team centric approach asks the bully to participate fully.  The bully identifies colleagues and managers in their workplace to provide ‘anonymous and honest’ feedback of their behaviours and perceptions thereof.

This process asks the employer to include additional staff that could provide further insight. This might be an employee who has informally or formally complained or a manager responsible for the abrasive or bullying employee.

The process should only be conducted by an external specialist not the organisation.  Independence is critical and all interviews must be confidential and de-identified when fed back to the bully.

Patterns of negative behaviour are then grouped and worked and coaching provided to the bully or employee with highly abrasive behaviours.


Engaging in a team process sends a powerful message that staff wellbeing and safe workplaces are non-negotiables.  It tells bullies that unacceptable behaviours are not tolerated and change is expected and supported.

While the process is private and confidential, participants have confidence the organisation is determined to resolve issues.   Employees nominated by the abrasive or bullying employee will be asked to participate by that employee, indicating they are part of that education process of self-improvement.

Final note – don’t wait 

Businesses should not wait until there is a legal bullying claim or other serious issue before implementing this process.

If you have identified an employee who is continuously rubbing others the wrong way, and you are hearing about it, the time to act is now. Don’t wait.

Acting before a full on crises occurs will prevent serious injury and litigation costs.  It also positively strengthens organisational culture, trust, productivity which makes smart commercial sense.