Company News

More Workplace Bullying than Sexual Harassment

NILES, Ohio – While sexual harassment in the workplace continues to make national news with the #MeToo movement, other forms of harassment can be more common and are just as costly to a company.

That was the message at Wednesday’s Mahoning Valley Safety Council seminar featuring Kim “Bo” Arnold, president and CEO of KLA Risk Consulting, Dublin, Ohio, and author of “Mood, Food, and Gratitude: Healing The Way We Think.”

A third of employees are bullied at work, Arnold told those gathered at Ciminero’s Banquet Centre. And while sexual harassment is a violation of federal law that’s not to be taken lightly, bullying is a human resources problem, she says. As such, more businesses are starting to incorporate anti-bullying policies.

“We’ve gone from the playground to the office,” Arnold said. “These people are supposed to be adults, but they act like children. They feel the need to bully and harass as a way to feel powerful. But all it does is scream ‘I’m powerless’. ”

It stems from a feeling of a lack of power and worthiness, which causes them to try to make others feel inferior, she said. Other reasons for harassment can stem from rigid beliefs taught by society, which can lead to unjustified hate for certain people who might look or act differently than how other people think they should, she said. They then react with judgment, anger and violence to those things.

Sexual harassment has been an ongoing issue since businesses first began emerging decades ago and men ruled the workforce, she said. Women were originally the majority of victims, but now victims of sexual harassment or bullying can easily be a man or a woman.

“It goes on all the time. Lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming, and build a low morale for the business,” she said. “It’s really difficult to deal with those claims and lawsuits.”

As defined by law, Arnold said sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. Name-calling using words like “babe” or “honey,” rating someone by their looks, or making jokes about sex are all considered forms of sexual harassment and are not appropriate in the workplace, she said.

She advised business owners and employees to be cognizant of signs of control, dominance and self-centered behavior being exhibited by either co-workers or management.

“Do not make excuses for those employees who exhibit inappropriate behavior in the workplace,” she said. “Make sure you have ‘zero-tolerance’ written in your policy.”

There are many costs of bullying that could affect not only the victim but also the business itself. The employee loses focus while at work and productivity deteriorates, which can lead to a negative work culture, she said. Business owners who stand up for employees who are victims of harassment will strengthen morale, and the company will be viewed as one that cares about its employees’ well-being.

Cohesion and collaboration is the goal in any anti-bullying or anti-harassment policy, she said. Creating a team and showing the connection to employees that business leadership will follow the same rules and execute the importance of those rules by doing it themselves is crucial.

“Anytime you have management who does something different than what they’re asking other people to do, you will always have a broken workforce of resentment and ‘us versus them’, ” she said.

Arnold stressed the importance of implementing and following through with sexual harassment and bullying policies that will show employees and victims that they are being cared for.

“Following through with a complaint means everything,” she said. “Encourage employees to come forward with their complaints. Set up a clear complaint procedure and be absolutely sure that it is confidential. Let your employees know the outcome of your complaint and once you follow through with your investigation. If the harasser was fired, tell the employee.”

Victims should be highly encouraged to speak up to their harassers and tell them “no,” or tell them to stop, Arnold said. The goal is to be assertive and to diminish the feeling of being a helpless victim by speaking up. However, if the problem persists, employees should feel comfortable and confident that their boss will listen and take care of their complaint, she said. Also, ensure employees know that they are protected under law against retaliation from their complaints.

“This is an opportunity to work together and improve the organization and find out where we need to help somebody and how we can help each other and come together in that perspective,” she said. “If we could show people that — that is the purpose of this whole thing, more people would report and more people would think before speaking. Because no one deserves to be harassed at work, and nobody asks for it.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.