Small businesses are unique in that they can place employees in close proximity to one another, forming bonds that are almost familial in nature among teams working together to create success. However, in the small business setting, as in any family situation, conflict and antagonism can develop and disrupt the relationships between employees and/or their bosses, spilling over into declined morale that affects business performance. Workplace bullying is, unfortunately, on the rise in Canada.
According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 40 per cent of Canadian workers experience workplace bullying on a weekly basis. Leaders of small business teams need to make it their responsibility to create work environments that are safe, welcoming and able to resolve conflicts in reasoned, productive ways when they arise, and for building standards and practices around workplace conduct into the foundation of their businesses’ operating policies. Failing to do so will not only affect the emotional makeup of a small business, but also have meaningful effects on productivity and profitability in the long run.
According to WorkSafeBC, workplace bullying and harassment is any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker that could cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated. A Worksafe study also indicated that less than half of respondents believed their organizations effectively dealt with bullying.
Some common indicators of workplace bullying include:
- Low employee morale
- Low productivity from a particular employee
- Unwanted criticism
- Blame without any justification
- Employees being treated differently than the rest of the group
- Any employee isolation or exclusion
- Humiliation in public or shouting
- Micro-managing or excessive monitoring of a specific employee
If your attitude toward workplace bullying has been laissez-faire or informal to this point, consider the potential risk to the wider health of your business. Stanford University’s Bill Sutton has suggested that productivity could decline up to a 40% when workers are distracted by bullying, and research out of the United Kingdom suggests that workplace bullying has been a factor in the loss of 18.9 million working days each year. Each time an employee leaves the workplace, there are replacement costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training new staff as well – and according to various reports, anywhere from 30 to 70 percent of bullied employees (including witnesses to workplace bullying) will eventually leave their jobs.
Awareness and understanding of the employee/employer dynamics in small businesses and the diplomacy surrounding them will be the most important factors when it comes to identifying, mitigating and disciplining against workplace bullying.