An Incident of Workplace Bullying : The Leader’s Response

Workplace Bullying

As a leader in your organisation you have a big part to play in determining how your organisation responds to incidents of workplace bullying. 

In fact, your personal attitude, and the actions that you take both immediately after an incident and in the longer term, set the tone for how your organisation is seen by its workforce to handle bullying behaviour.

Sending Signals

And crucially, your attitude and actions set the tone for what signals your organisation sends out to its employees who use bullying behaviour and its employees who are adversely affected by it.

Do too little, and you will encourage people who use bullying behaviour that they will get away with it.

And send out the message to those adversely affected by bullying behaviour that you don’t care what happens to them while they are at work, even if this means that their welfare is compromised by bullying colleagues.

Incidences and Moments

Every time there is an incident of workplace bullying in your organisation the onus is on you as a leader to take action which is appropriate, timely and effective.  If you mis-handle the moment you risk losing the goodwill, endeavour and commitment of at least some, and possibly many, of your employees.

You risk losing good people who consider that the organisation which employs them has broken faith with them, and who therefore leave your employment rather than continue to be targeted by a bullying colleague without suitable intervention from above.  And you risk losing a proportion of your employees who observe incidents of workplace bullying going on around them, subsequently worry that they might be targeted next, and elect to work elsewhere rather than continue to work in a toxic environment.

What to Do

Whenever there is an incident of workplace bullying you need to act.

And whatever you do needs to be done in a timely manner, and in a way which places full responsibility where it belongs: with the use of bullying behaviour and, therefore, the person who employs these methods.

For instance, you could offer coaching to both those who use bullying behaviour, and to those adversely affected by it.  In the former case, an effective coaching programme can enable your bullying employee to develop the self-awareness they need to replace their counter-productive and aggressive methods with effective people-handling skills.

In the latter case, an effective coaching programme can enable your employees who are subject to workplace bullying to de-toxify from their experiences, regain their self-confidence, and move towards effective performance once more.

Sending Clear Signals

Requiring employees who use bullying behaviour to participate in a coaching programme sends out a clear message to your workforce that your organisation will:

  • Not tolerate bullying methods.
  • Hold those who use them accountable for their actions.
  • Require them to develop an effective people-handling skill set.
  • Support them as they make these change.

And providing coaching to assist employees as they recover from an experience of workplace bullying  sends out the message that your organisation will:

  • Accept responsibility for allowing bullying to occur on their patch.
  • Actively support those employees who are harmed by it.
  • Invest in them so that they can quickly assimilate their experiences, regain their self-confidence and find themselves again.

Responding effectively to incidents of workplace bullying makes sense if you want to keep your staff, and ensure their welfare while they are at work.  But handling incidents of workplace bullying effectively can also be a sound move financially.  And this is true even given the costs of providing coaching for an employee who uses bullying behaviour and providing coaching for employees subject to bullying behaviour.

Financial Benefits

Consider the financial benefits for your organisation of addressing issues created by workplace bullying.  These benefits include reducing or avoiding costs associated with:

  • Paying off employees who use bullying behaviour so that you can induce them to leave your organisation.
  • Losing talented employees subject to or witness to workplace bullying as they choose to work elsewhere.
  • Recruiting and developing replacement staff to take over permanently from those  who leave.
  • Hiring temporary staff or contract staff to replace those who leave on a short-term basis while you recruit permanent replacements.
  • Managing poorer than usual performance from employees whose self-esteem and energy levels are reduced due to their experiences of workplace bullying.
  • Conducting investigations into complaints of workplace bullying involving HR, ER and line managers.
  • Managing grievance procedures and internal disciplinary processes following complaints about workplace bullying.
  • Discussing how to handle team issues created by the use of bullying behaviour.
  • Lost business as your organisation’s effort and focus moves away from customer service and delivery issues, and turns inwards to its own toxicity.

This is one clear area in which as a leader you have a big role to play.  The choice is yours: take actions which create positive outcomes for your organisation in the aftermath of an incident of workplace bullying. Or mis-handle the moment and make a bad situation worse.  The choice is yours.

How did you handle the last incident of workplace bullying that occurred in your organisation?  What positive impact did this approach have on your employees?  What negative consequences did it have on your employees?  Looking back on that incident now, what could you have done differently and better to send a clear message that bullying behaviour will not be tolerated? And that your organisation takes seriously its responsibility to safeguard the well being of its employees while they are at work?


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Aryanne Oade is Director of Oade Associates
She is a Chartered Psychologist, executive coach, workshop facilitator, author & speaker
Email | LinkedIn | TwitterWeb | Books | 00 44 (0) 7747 868 368

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One response to “An Incident of Workplace Bullying : The Leader’s Response

  1. Workplace bullying has more severe consequences, including higher employee turnover, than sexual harassment, although sexual harassment itself can be interpreted as a form of bullying (i.e., a combination of disrespect and an abuse of power). Targets and victims can report the abuse to their HR department or their union or take legal action. A small proportion of bullied individuals actually admitted that they had been bullied. Training sessions can help when combined with a confidential reporting structure, although it is difficult to alter the basic nature of some individuals.

    An employee who suffers any physical or psychiatric injury as a result of workplace bullying could 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 over the next few years.

    For free abridged books on leadership, ethics, women in the workforce, sexual harassment and bullying, trade unions, etc., write to

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author


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