Does HR Respond To Workplace Bullying Complaints?

A recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) polled HR personnel about workplace bullying and how they respond to complaints. It’s clear that HR is aware of the problem. In fact, the vast majority of those polled believe it is the responsibility of HR to deal with it (only 1% feel there should be a special workplace bullying/workplace violence committee) and please keep in mind that about 27% of those taking part have been the targets of bullying themselves.   Here are the results of the SHRM survey —  note: respondents were allowed to choose more than one option

How HR responds to complaints

  • 76% response depends on specific circumstances
  • 65% internal investigation
  • 40% written warning
  • 27% performance improvement plan
  • 24% referral to EAP or counseling

Why do so many workplace bullying targets/advocates report that employees don’t find solutions when going to HR?  Perhaps because for many the actions they would consider a successful outcome come in at 17% and below: suspension, termination (zero-tolerance), mandatory counseling, probation, reassignment, anger management training, paid administrative leave, demotion.  All the more reason that any viable solution needs ALL the players at the table not just advocates and legislators.

Who’s doing the bullying?

While nearly 66% of HR personnel said they have a grievance process in place and a commitment to stopping workplace bullying, only 25% have regular awareness trainings.   [Note to HR: If employees don't know about it they are less likely to report incidents or come in for advice.]

  • 82% of the reported incidents involve workers at the same or similar level
  • 56% Supervisor abusing the employee
  • 37% upwards – employee abuses the supervisor

Based on the blogosphere there will be those who say that the large number of peer bullying (lateral bullying) is because targets are afraid of coming forward.  But, all it takes is a look at the definition of “mobbing” or a look at the scientific research about lateral bullying in the health care profession to recognize that this type of bullying is something that needs much more attention.  Whether or not you go to speak to HR depends on your own unique situation and the best advice you can rely on is best discussed with a lawyer – not Internet/media gurus who sell books and self-help DVDs.

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9 thoughts on “Does HR Respond To Workplace Bullying Complaints?

  1. You are so right that there needs to be more attention to mobbing; if not, the target is too likely to be accused, somewhere along the line, of bullying. Doing so justifies the mind set that says it’s okay to abuse, shun and terminate the worker.

    As for HR, yes, they should do more about workplace abuse, but chances are they won’t provide any meaningful help because they serve the interests of management. The same would be true of any in-house “bullying committee.” In house investigations are by their nature problematic because those in charge of them answer to management. Worse, they are likely to be comprised of workers appointed to the committee, who have little investigative experience.

    We don’t need more policing in our workplaces; we need greater compassion and humanity, and that starts with looking at our own behaviors, not other worker’s.

    (And the comparison of the studies is very interesting; a much closer look at those WBI studies is in order.)

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  2. Targets, victims and witnesses of bullying have a few avenues to pursue (as compared with victims of sexual harassment) when subject to repeated and obvious acts of aggression, spreading malicious rumours, excluding someone socially or from certain projects, undermining or impeding a person’s work or opinions, insulting a person’s habits, attitudes, or private life and intruding upon a person’s privacy. Others include being rude or belligerent, destroying property, assaulting an individual, or setting impossible deadlines. Although bullying is recognized as detrimental to occupational health, there is little political or corporate interest in stopping it.

    In schoolyard bullying, the bullies are children, whose behaviour is controlled by the leaders, i.e. the school administration. In workplace bullying, however, the bullies are often the leaders themselves, i.e., the managers and supervisors. Therefore, reporting a bully to the HR dept, for example, may expose the target/victim to the risk of even more bullying, slower career advancement, or even termination, on the grounds of being a “troublemaker!”.

    Workplace bullying has severe consequences, including reduced effectiveness and high employee turnover. An employee who suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying can confront the bully, report the bully to the HR department or to the trade union, if any, or bring a claim of negligence and/or a personal injury claim against both the employer and the abusive employee as joint respondents in the claim. If the law does not persuade employers to deal with workplace bullying, the economic reality will persuade them. Training sessions can help when combined with a confidential reporting structure, but it is difficult to alter the basic nature of some individuals, who may need counselling.

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

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  3. of course they respond. they respond by blaming the target. they respond by making the person who stands up and says THIS IS WRONG by threatening them. They respond by harassment, messing up your personnel file, and eventually forcing you out the door when you can’t take it anymore. HR is NOT your friend.

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    • Sue, you are absolutely correct. I complained about a co-worker for abusive behaviors. My boss did nothing. So I went to HR. When I went over my boss’ head to get somewhere, my boss got angry at me. He then has made up false allegations and lies. Last week during our meeting to “see how things are going”, HR accused ME of being insubordinate. Now I’m looking for a lawyer.

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  4. Pingback: Does HR Respond To Workplace Bullying Complaints? | Human Resource Vetting

  5. I agree HR is Not the Bully’s friend. OK so what are we going to do about it? Many people suggest leaving the job But for many this is Not a viable option. So how do we resolve a tortuous situation that is often so catastrophic for our health??

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  6. Very important with warning to be fired the HR has to give warning to those bulling to others, instead let them be a star, model or create some thing better bulling to others such must stop.

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  7. HR is pathetic and plays a major role in the problem. You would think that any human being that knows this type of abuse is happening (and they are very aware of what’s happening) would stop it and yes, they have the power to stop it. However, that would take up their time and their only interests are themselves and then who pays their salary. They endorse it, as far as I’m concerned, by not doing something about it when they are in a position to do just that. As HR, they are aware of the perfomance of the employees, so for those who want to pretend they are ignorant, why don’t you ask yourself, “Why did a good employee who loved their job and was so dedicated, all of the sudden turn into this malicious, bad performing employee?” It’s a simple as that and you would have you’re answer. They know, they all know, they’re just too selfish to care or bother themselves about it, even though that is what their job is.

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  8. I WORK WITH A MAN THAT IS A BULLY HE GOT IN MY FACE I AM A FEMALE I HELD OUT MY HAND STEPPED BACK TOLD HIM TO STOP HE STRUCK ME 3 TIMES IN MY ARM WITH HIS FIST . I RAN TO MANAGER THEY SENT ME TO HR NEXT DAY SAID IT WAS MY WORD VERSES HIS NO ONE SAW THE HIT SO THEY DID NOTHING TO HIM . SO WOW YOU CAN HIT SOMEONE AT WORK AND NOTHING HAPPENS TO THAT PERSON MY ARM HURTS BAD TO GRIP ANYTHING I NEED MY JOB I DONT WANT TO MAKE WAVES THEY SAY THERE IS A NO BULLING POLICY AT JOB I AM ONE OF THE TOP SALES PEOPLE THERE NOW HE WALKE AROUND GIVING ME IM GOING TO GET YOU LOOKS

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