By Kate O’Sullivan

There is an increasing, global awareness about bullying and its effects, but if you think it’s just something that happens to kids, you’re wrong. Twenty-seven percent of businesses have experienced workplace violence — bullying being one of the most common manifestations — at least once in the last five years. As a business owner and employer, it is your duty to ensure the safety and well-being of your workers. Here are a few things you can do.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

While there are no guarantees, taking smart steps to vet potential employees can go a long way to minimizing the risk of trouble occurring in your ranks.

Pre-Employment Screening

As described in an earlier post about pre-employment screening, finding out whether applicants have a history of harassment or violent behavior will allow you to make more informed choices about the people you want to hire. Obviously, convictions and arrests may raise your suspicions in that regard.

Robust Workplace Policies

Develop a clear set of guidelines for workplace behavior. You can look online for examples of what should be in a good policy. Define the conduct you would consider harassment or bullying — including nasty remarks, exclusion, sabotage, and withholding information, as discussed in this prior post on bullying — and the consequences of any employees who breach your rules.

You need to have a well thought out procedure that outlines how to go about making a complaint and what kind of protection complainants have. Make sure that you go over policies with all of your employees, but we’re not talking about a mass email. If you don’t do the presentation yourself, make sure that it is covered by another human being; have managers or supervisors talk to the people who report to them. Give a copy of the workplace policies to new hires as part of orientation.

A Good Offense Is a Good Defense

Rules are useless if they are not enforced. While this doesn’t mean that you should be ruthless, it does require diligence and consistency of application.

Take Complaints Seriously

If your staff think that your workplace bullying/harassment policy complaint process is simply lip service, not only will you be unable to dispel any toxic atmosphere at your business, but employees who are being bullied will lose faith in you. This could definitely compromise productivity and workplace harmony. If someone makes a complaint, take it seriously and investigate it — be compassionate, but fair and impartial as well. Do not ignore complaints or summarily dismiss them, but don’t go on any witch hunts.

A Zero-Tolerance Policy

As the employer, you must establish and maintain the integrity of your workplace bullying and harassment policy. Your workers, supervisors, and managers — everyone down the line — must be aware that you will not tolerate bullying at work. There may be times you have to make an uncomfortable decision, but you need to make sure your staff are aware that your duties as a business owner to maintain a healthy workplace take precedence over any personal feelings or interpersonal relationships. Whether you have a one-strike or first-warning policy is up to you, but when push comes to shove, your employees need to see that you are willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

You Reap What You Sow

A stable and healthy work environment is something that is grown and nurtured, not magically spawned. That means that even after you’ve created one, there is upkeep you must undertake.

Employee Engagement

Many companies realize the importance of employee engagement to productivity, and in turn, the success of their business. It’s not just about making employees feel appreciated; it is about employees understanding their roles, responsibilities, and contributions to the business. When your workers feel that they have a stake in the growth of the company and a hand in its achievements, they tend to work harder to help the company fulfill its goals. Instead of viewing your employees as chattel for your company, you are investing in them so that good people stay and don’t have to be replaced. Provide training, development, incentive — and possibly mentorship — so they can grow professionally.

Transparency and Support

People tend to be more trusting and collaborative when they feel that they can speak freely about their concerns. Open-door policies tell employees that management is accessible and interested in the well-being of everyone in the company. Remember that honest communication goes both ways. Just as you want your employees to believe that they can come to you, you should do your best to provide progress reports on projects and initiatives of interest to them. Give them sincere, constructive feedback on their efforts and output. Show them that your success equates to their success and that you respect them as team members, not as drones. Demonstrate that when different parts of the organization work cohesively and in tune with each other, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Building a Healthy Business

Just as human health is best viewed holistically — that is, it’s not just physical health that matters — the health of your business is not determined by just one factor. Profitability thrives when you have well thought out business strategy, proper fiscal management and a highly functional team backing you up. By protecting your employees from workplace bullying and providing a secure, supportive atmosphere for them to grow professionally, you will build that vital factor for success for all.