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How Your Company Can Combat Bullying (Spirit Day 2019)

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Will you lend a hand to fight against bullying? If so, read on to find out what you can do in your business to make the world just a little bit better.

Today, 17 October, is Spirit Day: an annual day of action to fight LGBTQ bullying. From the website:

“Spirit Day is a means of speaking out against LGBTQ bullying and standing with LGBTQ youth, who disproportionately face bullying and harassment because of their identities.”
Spirit Day
Spirit Day website

On this day back in 2017, we looked at Spirit Day ideas for businesses. In that article, you’ll find a lot of information about the history of Spirit Day, why it’s so important, and what companies can do to mark the occasion.

Today, we’re going to look at another important contribution companies can make, not just today but year-round: fighting bullying in the workplace.

You’ll learn why workplace bullying is such an important issue and what you can do to stop it. We’ll then broaden it out to look at bullying in schools as well. How can you educate your employees on signs to look out for and action to take to support a child facing bullying?

You’ll learn all that today, so read on.

Why You Should Take Action on Workplace Bullying

Although Spirit Day’s focus is on LGBTQ youth, bullying isn't just an issue for schools to worry about—it affects the workplace too.

Two in five LGBT workers (40%) reported feeling bullied at work, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey.

Some other shocking statistics from the survey:

  • One in five LGBT workers have experienced health issues because of bullying at work.
  • 41% have left a job because they were bullied.

You may think that this doesn’t apply to your company, but are you sure? Consider that 72% of LGBT workers didn't report their bullying to HR. Bullying is often covert, with the perpetrator keeping it hidden and the person being bullied often unwilling to speak up about it.

So, with such a large proportion of your workforce potentially affected, it’s essential to take preventative action. How can you expect people to be productive and contribute in their jobs if they’re dreading coming to work because of bullying or harassment by their coworkers?

How to Combat Bullying at Work

What can you do to make your workplace safe for all employees? Here are five ideas:

1. Recognise and Identify Workplace Bullying

Bullying can take different forms in the workplace. It may, in rare cases, be physical, but it’s more likely to take subtler but no less damaging forms.

In the same CareerBuilder survey we looked at earlier, LGBT workers mentioned the following examples of bullying at work, among others:

  • belittling comments
  • constant criticism
  • being excluded from projects or meetings
  • being ignored
  • being falsely accused of making mistakes

Learn to identify workplace bullying. Look for patterns of behaviour, ask coworkers for input, and don’t expect people to be comfortable about coming forward to speak about it.

Some of the other strategies in this section will help, but you’ll still have to dig deep and overcome people’s reluctance to speak up.   

2. Devise a Clear Anti-Bullying Policy

Having an anti-bullying policy isn't a solution in itself, but it's an important first step. You need to make it clear to all employees what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t. Your policy should also lay out clear consequences for engaging in bullying and harassment of other employees.

Include the policy in your employee handbook and make sure everyone reads it—both new and existing employees. You can find out more about writing company policies in these tutorials:

3. Train Staff

A policy isn’t enough, of course—you need to provide training for staff to ensure that they understand what’s in the policy. Ultimately, it'll be mostly up to managers to enforce the policy and employees to report violations. So, it’s vital that everyone is clear about how it works.

The training should give examples of different types of bullying and harassment so that people can identify it when it happens. It should also make people aware of the steps they need to take when it does occur, including how to report, investigate, and resolve complaints.

If you don’t already provide diversity training, it would be worth arranging some of that too. That way employees are better prepared to be part of a diverse workforce and less likely to bully or persecute other groups.

4. Create a Positive, Inclusive Work Environment

As a business owner or manager, you set the tone of the company. You have ample opportunity to show employees through your words and actions what you value and what kind of work environment you want to create.

Show that you value all employees and that targeting particular groups is simply not acceptable. Try to create a positive, supportive working environment in which employees are encouraged to work together, not against each other.

These are large topics, of course, and changing a workplace culture isn't a simple or quick task. Fortunately, we have several tutorials that you can refer to for more information and concrete steps to take:

5. Take Action

Now it’s time to follow through. Despite all the policies and the training and the work in creating a supportive workplace culture, bullying will probably occur at some point. How you react is vital.

If you see bullying taking place in the workplace, intervene immediately. Call it out. Show that you take bullying seriously and that you'll take every opportunity to stamp it out.

If someone reports a case of bullying to you, the first step is to support the person making the complaint. Listen to them and give them whatever help and support they need. Assure them that you'll investigate and take any appropriate action, while protecting them from possible retribution.

Then conduct a thorough investigation and, if the complaint is valid, follow the disciplinary process laid out in your policy. It’s important to build confidence and belief in your policy by showing that you'll implement it firmly and fairly in all cases.

What to Do About Bullying in Schools

Next, let’s tackle bullying at school. According to the Spirit Day website:

  • 70% of LGBTQ students report being verbally harassed.
  • 71% of LGBTQ students report hearing homophobic remarks from teachers and/or school staff because of their gender expression.
  • 49% of LGBTQ students have experienced cyberbullying.

The worst part is that even when they report incidents of bullying, LGBTQ students often don’t get the help they need from adults. In the same survey, 60% of LGBTQ students who reported an incident said that school staff did nothing in response or told the student to ignore it.

Bullying is a wider problem too. According to school bullying statistics from the U.S. government:

“Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school.”

LGBTQ youth are at particular risk, however, because bullies often target those who are perceived as different. And we still live in a world in which LGBTQ people are often marginalised and discriminated against. Children take their cues from the adult world, and it’s a world in which intolerance and hatred are all too common.

In this section, we’ll look at what you and your employees can do to spot the signs a child is being bullied and intervene to help them.

7 Common Signs That a Child Is Being Bullied

Children and teenagers often don’t speak up when they’re being bullied.

They may worry that adult intervention will only make things worse, that it won’t stop the bullying but will get them labelled as a “snitch”. They may feel that they won’t be believed, or that they should be able to deal with it themselves. They may be ashamed or embarrassed. Or, if they’re not yet open about their sexual orientation or gender identity, they may fear the consequences of speaking up.

So even if a young person doesn’t mention any problems, even if they deny being bullied when asked about it, you still need to watch for the signs. Here are seven common ones:

1. Skipping School

If school is where the bullying is taking place, a natural response will be to stay away or be reluctant to go.

2. Declining Grades

How can a child concentrate on schoolwork when they’re worried about being beaten up or verbally abused in the lunch break? Declining academic performance is a common warning sign.

3. Behaviour Changes

If a young person suddenly goes from being outgoing and confident to withdrawn and moody, that’s an obvious warning sign. But there may be others, like eating less or having trouble sleeping. Be alert to sudden changes.

4. “Lost” Possessions

Bullies often steal from those they attack. If a child starts losing bags, books, money or other possessions, it may not be due to carelessness.

5. Injuries

Not all bullying is physical, but when it is, there will probably be signs of it. Look for bruises, especially on the torso and legs—bullies often aim for less visible parts of the body to avoid detection.

6. Self-Destructive Behaviour

At the extreme end of the scale, bullying can be so damaging to a young person that they engage in seriously self-destructive behaviour such as self-harming, running away, and suicide attempts. These are clear and obvious warning signs.

7. Evasiveness About Online Behaviour

With cyberbullying, watch out for a child’s reactions when going online or receiving messages. If they seem upset, anxious, depressed, or angry, or if they try to hide their online activity, that could be a sign of cyberbullying.

One final note: keep in mind, of course, that there could be other explanations for many of the signs we’ve just covered. But if a young person you know is exhibiting some of these warning signs, it may be due to bullying, and it’s definitely worth intervening.

What You Can Do to Help

What can you do if you suspect that a young person is being bullied? Here are five tips:

1. Talk

As we saw earlier, many young people don’t speak openly about being bullied. You can help by talking to them about bullying—what it is, how to identify it, and what they can do if it happens to them or they see it happening to someone else. Also talk to them about their lives in general. Get them used to the idea of talking to you—see this U.S. government advice page for more detail.

2. Listen

This is fundamental. If your child tells you they’re being bullied, you may be so shocked or angry that you go straight into action, vowing to confront the kids and their parents or to speak to the teachers. Instead, listen carefully to what the child is telling you and encourage them to tell you as much as they can.

3. Take It Seriously

“Just ignore it” is a common response, but it’s not helpful. Instead, take the issue seriously and assure the child that you're there to support them and help them resolve it.

4. Suggest Solutions

Bullying can leave young people feeling powerless. Come up with strategies to help them resolve it—not by ignoring it or using retaliatory violence, but by standing up to the bully verbally, being assertive, using humour, sticking with friends, and other strategies.

If the bullying continues, you may need to involve teachers or other adults. But make sure the child is OK with it and understands why you’re doing it. Talk with them first and make it about working for solutions, not undermining their ability to deal with the problem.

5. Access Resources

GLAAD publishes a wonderful Anti-Bullying Resource Kit for parents and educators. It’s full of useful information, links to further resources, and books on bullying.

You should also read this article in which LGBTQ youth share their own stories and offer advice to adults on how to end bullying.

Also check out the official U.S. government Stop Bullying site, which has lots of good information on identifying and preventing bullying. If the situation is urgent, see this page on how to get help now.

Take the Spirit Day Pledge!

Take the Spirit Day pledge
Take the Spirit Day pledge

In this article, you’ve learned about the importance of bullying at work and at school. You’ve seen how to handle a bully at work and put systems in place to stop workplace bullying. And you’ve learned how to spot the signs a child is being bullied and intervene to help them.

Remember, Spirit Day is all about supporting LGBTQ+ youth, who are at risk of bullying and harassment. So don’t forget to head over to the Spirit Day website and take the pledge against bullying.

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