Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Workplace Bullying Organizations

The Limitations of a Bottom-Up Approach in Addressing Workplace Bullying

part of a computer is showing with the words bottom up approach written on a  clipboard with glasses sitting on papers at the bottom
Recently, I had a conversation with a former colleague who updated me on the organization's attempts to address workplace bullying. This piqued my interest as I contemplated whether the organization, which has long suffered from a bullying culture, could effectively tackle the issue when the impetus for change comes from the workers rather than the leadership.

During our discussion, I delved deeper to gain a better understanding of their approach. It turns out they established a committee comprised solely of faculty members to address bullying within their ranks. The faculty had voiced concerns about bullying, and the administration granted them permission to form the committee as a means of addressing the issue.

While forming a committee can be a good starting point and is a common practice in higher education, it's important to recognize that the committee process can be time-consuming. Moreover, relying solely on faculty members may limit the perspectives considered, as they represent only one facet of the organization. Given that bullying impacts individuals at various levels, such as staff, students, and bystanders, a comprehensive solution necessitates incorporating these diverse perspectives and understanding how the bullying culture affects each entity.

To ensure a well-rounded committee, it is crucial to include members from different levels within the organization. For example, a university committee addressing bullying could comprise faculty, staff, union representatives, administration, and student representatives. This diversity allows for open and honest discussions about the current environment, procedures, and strategies for change. Understanding how bullying affects different entities within the organization is vital for developing effective and viable solutions that can be successfully implemented.

Furthermore, the committee focused on education and received training on "workplace bullying." However, it appears that the training was not mandatory for all faculty, human resources, and administration. While education and training are certainly important, it is essential to ensure that everyone within the organization is educated about workplace bullying to foster a common understanding. It is not helpful if only a select few, such as faculty members, receive training while other key stakeholders remain uninformed.

The training primarily emphasized conflict resolution, including the use of mediation as a tool for resolution. While conflict resolution is valuable, it is crucial to distinguish between conflict and bullying, as they require different approaches. To design effective strategies for stopping and preventing persistent workplace aggression, organizations must clearly identify the distinctions between workplace bullying and conflict. Relying solely on conflict resolution guidelines to address bullying is a mistake, as these strategies can inadvertently re-victimize targets and perpetuate the bullying environment. Thus, organizations need specific training on workplace bullying, not just conflict resolution, to effectively address and prevent it.

I also inquired about the commitment from the administration. It seemed that some administrators made efforts to engage with the committee and discuss the issue, but there was no clear indication of a firm commitment to genuinely address the problem. For interventions to be truly effective, leadership must genuinely desire to solve workplace bullying. Administrators possess the authority to implement policy changes and hold workers accountable for professional standards, both positive and negative. If a committee collaborates with an administration that lacks full commitment to solving workplace bullying, they are likely to encounter obstacles that impede real action. In such cases, the committee may end up going through the motions without the ability to effect meaningful change.

Importantly, it's worth noting that these very same ideas had been attempted in the past without success in combating workplace bullying. Bottom-up approaches often struggle to address deeply ingrained bully cultures within organizations. Committees and workers lacking the support of leadership may face challenges in creating and implementing genuine change in a workplace plagued by bullying. Leadership and administration exert significant influence, as they can enforce policy changes and demand professional accountability, which are necessary to effectively combat workplace bullying. Therefore, a top-down approach to dealing with workplace bullying may ultimately prove more effective in the long run.

Call to Action:

It is evident that addressing workplace bullying requires a concerted effort from both workers and leadership. To create a meaningful change and eradicate bullying within organizations, I propose the following call to action:

1. Workers: Rally together and advocate for a comprehensive approach to combating workplace bullying. Engage in open conversations, share personal experiences, and collaborate across different levels and departments to develop a united front against bullying. Support initiatives that promote education, awareness, and the implementation of effective policies.

2. Leadership: Recognize the urgency and significance of addressing workplace bullying. Maintain a safe and respectful working environment for all employees. Be proactive in implementing anti-bullying policies and ensuring that they are enforced consistently throughout the organization. Provide comprehensive training programs that educate employees about workplace bullying, its impact, and appropriate prevention and intervention strategies.

3. Organizations: Foster a culture of respect, empathy, and zero tolerance for bullying behaviors. Establish clear channels of communication for reporting incidents and provide accessible support systems for victims. Regularly assess the effectiveness of anti-bullying measures, gather feedback from employees, and make necessary adjustments to improve the overall workplace environment.

4. Individuals: Take personal responsibility for promoting a positive work environment. Treat colleagues with respect, empathy, and kindness. Speak up if witnessing or experiencing bullying and support those affected by offering assistance and empathy. Create an inclusive, fair, and mutually respectful culture by being an ally.