When you’ve worked hard to hire an ace team for your startup, finding out there’s an office bully will come as a very unwelcome surprise. Whether a staff member comes to you with this information or you witness problematic behaviour such as someone making derogatory comments about a coworker, sabotaging or undermining a peer’s work, or degrading or chastising another staff member during meetings or via email first-hand, as the company leader it’s important that you step in and put an end to that behaviour as soon as possible.
Here are a few ways to deal with office bullies professionally without creating larger issues within the team:
Arrange a Meeting
Find a time that’s free for you and the offending team member and set up a meeting to discuss the troublesome behaviour one-on-one. If you already have a standing meeting with the employee, you can always include this discussion in that meeting; but if the discussion needs to happen sooner than in, then it’s best to ask for a separate meeting. Be sure that it occurs somewhere private – it’s best if it can be behind closed doors, but if that’s not possible due to your office layout, then pick a venue that is quiet, and that will allow for as much privacy as possible.
It’s likely this will be a difficult conversation to have, so the best approach is to be objective. Let them know what has been reported or what you have witnessed in as neutral of terms as possible, and explain that you want to discuss the reasons why they have been saying such things or acting in such a way. If you already have a code of conduct or anti-bullying policies established in the corporate handbook, do refer to that during the meeting.
Explain Why the Behaviour is Unacceptable
Once you’ve established the topic of conversation, it’s possible that your employee will be defensive or spin their comments as jokes. If they truly do think that they were teasing or joking, then hopefully they will easily understand why those sort of jokes are hurtful and not funny. But if they become defensive or physically upset, though, do your best to remain calm, but be firm when explaining that their behaviour has been unacceptable and that it cannot continue.
Be Clear About Next Steps
Once you’ve addressed their behaviour and made it clear that bullying will not be tolerated, explain any next steps you feel should be enacted. It might be an apology to the targeted coworker, the completion of an online workshop about bullying, follow-up meetings, or even probation. Once the next steps are outlined, keep an eye on the employee to ensure their behaviour improves – if not, then you’ll need to consider harsher consequences or even termination.
Hopefully, a private discussion will be all that’s needed to nip bullying antics in the bud. Overall, what you want to establish is that bullying of any sort is not tolerated at your company and that those guilty of bullying will be dealt with effectively and swiftly. After all, company culture is crucial for the continuation of startups – you want yours to be positive and healthy.