Are your employees afraid to speak out about problematic co-workers? A new study shows workers often fail to report co-worker behavior that’s harmful to the company, up to and including fireable offenses that could lead to lawsuits for the employer. Here’s what you need to know—and how to find out what’s really going on at your workplace.
Warble’s 2018 Workplace Experience Study asked employees about eight categories of common workplace “bad behaviors:”
- Bad attitude
- Discrimination or targeting
- Poor management skills
- Sexual harassment
- Unethical behavior
Almost two-thirds (63%) of respondents say they’ve witnessed behavior at work that was disruptive to culture, productivity and/or the business itself, but didn’t report it to management.
Why don’t employees report bad behavior?
Why do employees keep quiet about bad behavior? Here are the top reasons:
- 46% don’t think any action will be taken
- 39% are worried about being labeled overly emotional, weak or petty
- 38% remain silent because the offender is their manager
- 38% fear retaliation
- 32% don’t trust HR
- 26% fear losing their job
- 20% have trouble describing the behaviors
What’s the impact of bad behavior at work?
Negative workplace behaviors have far-reaching impacts on both the worker and the business. Some workers quit their job rather than confront or report a co-worker. Women are 30% more likely than men to quit their jobs because of a co-worker or supervisor’s behavior. Women and people with lower household incomes are also more likely than men or those with incomes over $150,000 to fear retaliation or job loss if they report bad behavior.
Overall, the three behaviors that all employees say have the biggest negative influence on the workplace are poor management skills (64%), bad attitudes (58%) and incompetence (56%). Obviously, these behaviors have major ramifications for the success of the business itself.
In addition, 69% of employees say sexual harassment has a negative impact on the business, but only 26% are likely to report it. Similarly, 61% say discrimination has a negative impact on the business, but only 39% are likely to report it.
How to prevent bad behavior at work
One reason employees may fail to report negative behavior: It’s often hard to put into words. A whopping 78% of respondents agree with the statement, “The most common disruptive behaviors at work are done in subtle or passive-aggressive ways.” As a result, there’s no real evidence—just one employee’s word against another’s.
If you rely on your managers or executives for insights into what’s going on at your business, you’re only getting only part of the story. Warble’s study found companies that depend too heavily on manager’s perspectives are more likely to be blind to problems, such as poor management, that affect the rest of the employees.
How can you reduce bad behavior at your business—and get employees to be honest when it does happen?
- Clarify your standards for ethical behavior and educate employees about your expectations. You can use employee handbooks, lunch-and-learn sessions, role-playing, online video trainings or other methods to spell out what you expect in the workplace.
- Be proactive and convey to employees that if they see misconduct in the workplace, it’s their duty to come forward. At the same time, build trust that employees who come forward will be protected from retaliation.
- Start at the top. You and your managers must model an environment of ethical behavior, respect and inclusiveness. Put equal weight on meeting these standards as meeting other company goals, like sales quotas or meeting deadlines.
- Take special care to show lower-level employees that their input and their opinions are as important as those of managers. Change your top-down employee reviews to 360-degree reviews where employees’ anonymous input about each other is taken into consideration as part of the process.
- Provide an anonymous channel for employees to submit reports. Nearly 75% of Warble’s respondents say they’d be more likely to report bad behavior if they could do it anonymously. This can encourage people who fear retaliation or losing their jobs to speak up.
When employees do report bad behavior, use the information to take action and make changes. For example, employees who have a bad attitude or poor management skills may not realize they need to improve. You may also need to provide additional training to improve competence or remind employees what type of behavior is unacceptable at work. Or, you may need to take disciplinary action against an employee. Whatever action you choose to take, it’s imperative you do something. A demoralized or fearful workplace is not a productive one.
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