Although bullying is most commonly associated with schoolyard antics, bullies often continue to bully into adulthood, and it can be a challenge for adults to cope with in the workplace.
Renee Klaric, manager of the medically assisted addiction treatment program at University Hospitals, offers tips and ways adults who experience bullying can react to it.
“We say, ‘It’s all about them,’ but it’s not really all about them,” she said. “It’s about what’s going on in your head. We can’t change the bully, so we have to change our response to the bully.”
Klaric’s message is one of empowerment, that taking control of your own emotions and reactions can be a useful tool in responding to bullying, whatever the context. In practice, this level of self awareness is more common in adults than young children, but Klaric said there’s no reason children can’t be taught to react to bullying in an assertive, emotionally intelligent way.
Typical reactions among children are to enable bullying, bully back or be victim, but Klaric said adults can respond more productively.
“You stand up for yourself,” she said. “You acknowledge that something hurt and ask them what their intention is.”
Asking bullies what they’re intention is in hurting someone often can elicit an honest response that they didn’t realize they were being hurtful, said Klaric.
“If they bully again, that’s exactly their intention,” she added.
At area businesses, human resources professionals tend to manage and encourage that honest exchange in cases where there’s been bullying in the workplace. Kelley Hollander, who manages human resources at Viking Forge in Streetsboro, said bullying is distinct from harassment.
She said she often serves as a mediator between two parties involved in a bullying incident, seeking a specific resolution.
“The goal is to figure out how those two people can work together moving forward,” she said, adding those conversations focus on workplace issues.
Tamara Engelhardt, vice president of human resources at Step2 Co. in Streetsboro, said officials at the company usually try to speak with the individuals involved.
Sometimes, she said a stressful, hot day on the floor can shorten tempers in employees who normally behave well with coworkers.
“We’re humans,” she said. “It’s really hot and people get cranky. The way we deal with it is, we engage; we talk with the individuals involved and try to have a meeting of the minds.”
Bullying at Step2 Co. is classified as a form of harassment. Engelhardt said Step2′s culture is “one of inclusiveness” built on tolerance and mutual respect, but incidents do occur from time to time.
She said every incident is unique, but most can be addressed through engagement and coaching. More serious or repeated bullying can lead to more serious consequences, including firing.
“If there’s a pattern of behavior even after they’ve been coached, we do a lot with external resources,” said Engelhardt. “We don’t condone this behavior. We try, obviously, to correct it, and, if there is a pattern, we ramp up the intervention, and, in some cases, it can lead to a parting of ways.”
One of those external resources is the Employee Assistance Program, which provides counseling and can refer employees to other specialists.
Although, Step2 has a variety of mechanisms to address bullying when it occurs in the workplace, Engelhardt said the best way to maintain a culture unfriendly to bullying is to try to watch out for bullies during the hiring process.
“We look at the first person they interact with — how do they treat that person?” she said.
Bullies tend to be “dismissive” or arrogant around receptionists and administrative assistants, she said. She said there are also some probing questions developed in the interviewing process, and responses to them can send up red flags for interviewers, she added.
Both Viking Forge and Step2 also train new employees on their companies’ expectations there will be no bullying in the workplace.
Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, firstname.lastname@example.org or @bobgaetjens_rpc.