Workplace intimidation can take many forms, but the goal is always the same - to control or manipulate an employee. It can be a challenge to know how to respond to workplace intimidation, but with knowledge and understanding of what it is, you can start to take steps to protect yourself and your team. This blog post will give an overview of different bullying behavior, discuss signs of employees that might be harassed, and offer strategies for dealing with workplace intimidation.
What Is Intimidation in the Workplace?
Workplace bullying and intimidation can take many forms, from sexual harassment and physical violence to more subtle forms of manipulation. The line between what constitutes intimidation and what is simply aggressive behavior can be difficult to draw. However, workplace intimidation is generally characterized by a pattern of behavior that is intended to instill fear in others or create an abusive or hostile work environment. A survey from last year revealed that 44% of American participants have experienced harassment at work.
Types of Intimidation in the Workplace
Workplace bullying is a serious issue that can create a hostile work environment and lead to decreased productivity. However, not all forms of intimidation are the same. Here are some types of behaviors that constitute workplace harassment:
- Threatening body language. To the surprise of many, glowering countenance can qualify as a workplace intimidation tactic. Employees who feel that their supervisors are constantly angry or unhappy are likely to feel stressed and anxious. Additionally, a manager with an angry facial expression or hostile physical posturing is less likely to be perceived as approachable or helpful, which can make it difficult for employees to seek guidance.
- Emotional manipulation. A workplace bully may seek to change the actions or perception of another person through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. It may involve making someone feel guilty or insecure, playing on their fears or vulnerabilities, or using threats. Workplace bullies use manipulation to gain power over others or get them to do something that they wouldn’t normally do.
- Verbal abuse. Verbal assault is bullying behavior that can take many different forms. It can involve belittling or inappropriate remarks, personal attacks, threats, or profanity. While the specific words used may vary, the goal of verbal abuse is always to undermine the victim's self-confidence and sense of worth.
- Abase. A common workplace harassment tactic is humiliation - making someone feel unworthy, embarrassed, or insignificant in their professional setting. This can be done through public shaming or exclusion from important projects or meetings. It can be an intentional act by a supervisor or co workers or be the result of a toxic culture that tolerates teasing or belittling behavior.
- Physical contact. It involves intrusive or unwanted touching that makes a person feel uncomfortable, threatened, or exposed. It can include things like hugging, kissing, groping, and fondling or simply standing closer than a worker feels comfortable with. It can often lead to more serious issues, such as persistent sexual harassment.
- Physical assault. Physical assaults can be defined as a severe workplace bullying tactic that involves intentional threats or physical harm to another person. Aggravated assault is a more serious type of physical battery that involves inflicting serious bodily injury on another person. Sexual abuse is a type of physical assault that includes non-consensual sexual contact, including rape, fondling, and sexual coercion.
Signs That Employees Are Intimidated
Whatever the form it takes, workplace bullying can have a profound effect on employees, leading to reduced productivity, decreased job satisfaction, and even physical and mental health problems. If you suspect that someone in your workplace is bullied, is receiving physical threats, or is experiencing sexual harassment, there are some signs to look for:
- They have physical symptoms, such as unexplained injuries
- They often exhibit negative moods, such as sadness or irritability
- They avoid eye contact and keep their distance from a workplace bully
- They keep their arms and legs crossed or hold a tight grip on their belongings around office bullies
- They slouch, look nervous, fidgety, and on edge around certain co-workers
- They are reluctant to participate in meetings or call in sick more often
- They start to withdraw from social activities
- They become less engaged and productive at work
How to Handle Workplace Intimidation: Tips for Managers
Workplace harassment can take many forms, and while it can be difficult to deal with, it's important to remember that as an organization, you have a responsibility to create a safe and respectful work environment for all of your employees. Here are a few tips for how to handle workplace intimidation:
- Review your organization's policies and procedures. Seek assistance from an employment attorney to get familiar with federal anti-harassment policies, and learn what constitutes illegal workplace discrimination and criminal behavior. Update anti-bullying policies regularly to make sure they are effective in preventing and addressing workplace intimidation. Prepare employee handbooks that include federal anti-discrimination laws and prohibit harassment of any kind.
- Establish clear expectations. Make sure that leaders and HR professionals of your organization are aware of anti-discrimination laws and what constitutes workplace harassment. Handing out an employee handbook that lists anti-bullying policies could be effective in educating employees about workplace intimidation.
- Be vigilant in monitoring the workplace environment. Look for signs of workplace bullying in the employees, such as changes in their mental and physical health. This could include extreme mood swings, unexplained injuries, lower employee productivity, and absenteeism.
- Encourage employees to come forward about workplace intimidation. Organizations should create an environment where employees feel comfortable coming forward with concerns without fear of employer retaliation. This means having an open-door policy, establishing procedures for reporting incidents, and including them in an employee handbook.
- Investigate all reports of workplace intimidation. Knowing the company's anti-harassment policies and consulting an employment lawyer about federal law can help organizations know the necessary steps they need to take to solve the issue. Gathering valuable evidence of workplace intimidation can help them take it to company owners or human resources professionals if necessary.
- Take disciplinary action if necessary. Learning about federal law can also help managers know when police intervention might be needed. Having valuable evidence and knowing which federal and state laws make workplace intimidation illegal can help you to take appropriate disciplinary action if necessary.
- Provide support to employees who have been victims of workplace intimidation. This may include providing a mental health counselor or connecting the harassed employee with resources outside of the workplace. Check in with them regularly to see how they are doing and offer the employee strategies to recover and return to productive work.
Consequences of Intimidation in the Workplace
Workplace intimidation can have several repercussions, both for the individual and for the workplace as a whole. Here are some consequences of intimidation at work:
- Mental health problems. Workplace intimidation can lead to a variety of psychological problems, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of workplace intimidation often feel isolated, anxious, and paranoid, and may have difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can quickly spiral out of control, leading to more serious problems such as substance abuse, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
- Physical health issues. These include increased levels of stress, which can lead to headaches, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, and difficulty sleeping. In addition, workplace intimidation can cause people to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as smoking or overeating. Long-term exposure to a hostile environment at work can also lead to heart disease and hypertension.
- Lowered employee morale. When workers feel threatened or pressured, they may become withdrawn and less engaged in their work. Moreover, intimidation can foster a culture of fear and mistrust, making it difficult for employees to communicate openly and collaborate effectively.
- Diminished productivity. Intimidation can discourage employees from speaking up about problems or suggesting new ideas, stifling creativity and innovation. Working in a stressful and hostile workplace can impair cognitive function and make it difficult to concentrate on tasks, and complete job assignments, making an employee's productivity suffer.
- Increased absenteeism and higher turnover rates. Victims of intimidation often feel powerless and may start to avoid coming to work, resulting in increased absenteeism. This can lead to a feeling of disconnection from the company. In severe cases, they may look for a new job. A survey from last year found that 34% of harassed American workers voluntarily quit their jobs because of unresolved intimidation issues. 1
- Poor customer service. When employees feel intimidated, they are less likely to be interested in their work and more likely to make mistakes. In addition, intimidated employees are often less likely to speak up when they see something that needs to be fixed or when they have an idea of how to improve the way things are done. As a result, the quality of customer service suffers.
- Difficulty attracting and retaining talent. When potential employees see that there is a hostile or unfriendly environment, they may decide to look for a new job. Even if they do choose to apply for a job, they may not stay long if they find that the intimidation has not been addressed. Current employees who witness or experience intimidation may also choose to look for more positive types of workplace, making it even more difficult to attract top talent.
- Increased legal liability. If an employer is found to have tolerated or condoned illegal discrimination and criminal acts, they may be liable for damages in a civil lawsuit. In addition to potential civil suits brought by employees, employers may also be subject to investigations and penalties from state and federal agencies.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Intimidate Employees?
Workplace intimidation involves threatening body language, verbal assault, belittling and humiliation, unwanted physical contact, manipulation, sexual harassment, and physical violence.
However, there are also more subtle ways you could be intimidating your employees. It's not intentional, of course, but it can also happen when you're trying to be assertive or overly stern.
For example, when you are raising your voice, it puts people on edge and makes them feel like they're in trouble. When you invade someone's personal space and stand too close, it makes employees feel uncomfortable and trapped. Finally, if you're constantly putting your employees down, it's going to make them feel bad about themselves and their work.
As a manager, it's important to stay calm and keep your voice at a normal level, even when you're feeling frustrated. When standing around your employees, try to keep a respectful distance. In addition, try giving constructive feedback instead of outright insults.
Is It Illegal to Intimidate Employees?
In the UK, bullying itself is not considered illegal, but harassment is. Under the Equality Act 2010, harassment at work stands for spreading malicious rumors, treating someone unfairly, undermining someone, or denying someone job opportunities.
In the US, intimidation is illegal when employees are forced to endure offensive behavior as a condition to keep their job. It is also illegal when intimidation becomes severe enough to create a hostile working environment. In addition, federal laws prohibit discrimination against employees in retaliation for reporting or opposing intimidation.
Is Intimidation Considered Workplace Violence?
Workplace violence stands for threats, physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening behavior at work. So, the answer is yes - intimidation is considered violence at work.
Is Intimidation a Form of Discrimination?
Intimidation and discrimination often go hand in hand, but not all forms of discrimination involve intimidation. Intimidation is a pattern of behavior that causes an individual to feel embarrassment, discomfort, or fear. Discrimination is the differential treatment of groups or individuals based on their gender (and gender identity), sexual orientation, age, race, color, religion, marital or parental status. Therefore, you could be intimidating someone without discriminating against them, and vice versa.
Is Intimidation a Form of Workplace Bullying?
Intimidation is a word often used interchangeably with bullying, but there are some differences between them that should be recognized. Both can be seen as acts where someone is intimidated into doing something, but they differ in terms of intent. Intimidators often intend to make their victims feel afraid, while bullies just use force or threats without any care for another person's feelings.
What Should I Do if I Feel Intimidated at Work?
Research has shown that last year only 50% of Americans who were intimidated in their workplace reported harassment in the workplace.
If you are being intimidated at work, you should see if you can solve the issue informally. If not, talk to your manager or the human resources department. You can also contact a trade union representative or make an official complaint in your workplace.
If this doesn't work or you keep being intimidated, you can take legal action at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) in the UK. In the US, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.