Boosting employee engagement could be as simple as giving the boot to workplace bullying. Women often internalize harassment at work by calling in sick or disengaging from the job, while men opt to leave the position, according to findings from researchers at the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University, which were published in the December issue of Labour Economics. Here’s how operators are creating cultures that squash bullying while retaining and nurturing talent.
1. Look at the bigger picture
“Getting qualified workers can be extremely difficult with low unemployment rates in some of the regions we operate in,” says Janet DePiero, SVP and chief human resources officer for foodservice management company Unidine. “We need to do what we can to lower attrition rates, and addressing bullying is part of that.”
2. Address culture early
To ensure potential hires fit with Unidine’s culture, managerial candidates take behavioral indexing tests during the interview process. “We assess whether they are going to be an active listener, mentor and coach to junior team members,” DePiero says. The tests help hiring managers determine whether employees have the skills and drive to uphold their operations’ zero-tolerance harassment policies.
At Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, Ind., Martha Rardin, director of nutrition and dietetics, discusses respect with interviewees. “You set the tone by letting associates know that your place of work is welcoming and values diversity,” she says. “That’s when you let them know what you will and won’t tolerate.”
3. Drill it in
Some operators ensure anti-bullying messaging doesn’t stop at the first interview. All Unidine locations host daily staff meetings that recognize and reinforce behavior that embodies the organization’s values. Employees and managers must complete and pass training courses about workplace harassment, learning not only how to act professionally, but also how to advocate for themselves when they are uncomfortable.
“We also do one specifically for managers, so that they can see how their actions impact employees,” DePiero says. “We let them know that their tone of voice or even the slightest bit of suggestive language can make employees really uncomfortable.”
4. Give a broader view
Orientation is another opportunity to underline anti-bullying initiatives, but Rardin says it’s important to not just zero in on bullying. “A lot of people don’t recognize what’s happening to them as bullying or something they can report,” she says. “We tell them, if you are in any situation where you don’t feel quite right, report it. We let them know that they would never get in trouble for coming to us.”
5. Be proactive
If a worker asks to be taken off a shift or avoids other team members, Rardin gently asks the employee about his or her motives. “Know your staff and their patterns so that you can see when something has changed,” she says. “I find that usually there’s subtle avoidance techniques because they’re just trying to survive the day.”
6. Keep communication open
Unidine has a crisis hotline for employees who feel like they cannot go to their managers, which rings DePiero’s office and cellphone. People call the number at all hours, and are surprised to get in direct contact with an executive, she says. DePiero coaches callers about how to approach their situations and checks back in to gauge progress.
“Because of the increased recognition of bullying and harassment, it is a term that is used a little more frequently now than three or four years ago,” she says. “A lot of the time it’s a communication issue or an issue with management style, which we can get down to the bottom of.”