As employer Covid-19 vaccination and testing policies mature, employees are gradually moving back into the office. It’s an exciting time for co-workers to meet in person, have lunch together and socialize. However, there may be some Covid-19-related stigma souring the return to the office. Employer’s vaccine policies, government mandates, political orientation, and personal beliefs have all led to a potentially polarized, vocal, and passionate segmenting of those returning to the office. Whether the office is a basketball court, police car, hospital, school, or a cubicle in an office building, strong, passionate feelings could result in an increase in workplace bullying.
Research shows Covid-19 survivors experience heightened feelings of stigma across many domains including social rejection, financial insecurity, internalized shame, and increased social isolation. We know this already takes a toll on individuals metal health (see IBI’s research on the Impact of Covid-19 on Employee Mental Health and an upcoming webinar on it) but may not have thought through holistically how this dynamic plays out in the workplace as employees return.
Workplace bullying policies have been around for many years. Employees generally understand the lines between social interaction and camaraderie, versus creating a hostile workplace for co-workers. When these lines are crossed, bullied employees are ideally supported through documented policies and procedures. However, we may not have faced an issue so divisive and polarizing as Covid-19-related feelings and associated actions. Given the high levels of energy and the potential risks to the organization as employees reunite in the office, we recommend revisiting organizational policies and procedures for managing workplace bullying for current best practices and effective mitigation strategies.
Ferris, et al., present a framework for a comprehensive review of policy best practices focused on 6 key areas:
- Use a broad-based small group of stakeholders chartered with the task of reviewing the current policies and procedures in place today.
- Employ a focus on policy content which includes support for the normality of conflict, debate, and differences of opinion while establishing a zero tolerance for bullying.
- Include broad based formal and informal resolution options. For instance, a facilitated dialogue, training, mediation, and a well-defined investigation process.
- Include a defined time frame with the goal of concluding quickly while maintaining employee dignity.
- Policies should be easily accessible to all employees with any changes to content or other modifications announced.
- Monitor and review the policy regularly.
Workplace bullying represents significant personal, economic, and social challenges for an organization. Given the current climate, it makes sense to review and update relevant policies and procedures to protect employees, maintain worker productivity, and evolve as the issues we face do.
Ferris P.A., Deakin R., Mathieson S. (2021) Workplace Bullying Policies: A Review of Best Practices and Research on Effectiveness. In: D'Cruz P., Noronha E., Caponecchia C., Escartín J., Salin D., Tuckey M.R. (eds) Dignity and Inclusion at Work. Handbooks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment, vol 3. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-0218-3_3
Yuan, Y., Zhao, Y., Zhang, Q., Zhang, L., Cheung, T., Jackson, T., Jiang, G., & Xiang, Y. (2021). COVID-19-related stigma and its sociodemographic correlates: a comparative study. Globalization and Health, 17(1).