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We are all in this together…until we aren’t. 

Two months ago, without much warning the workplace changed. Suddenly we went from cubicle, office and conference room to bedroom, living room or wherever in our homes and apartments we could find a safe and quiet place to work.  Workplace safety is more important than ever, now that we are all working from home.

Our homes are our sanctuaries, our ultimate safe space. It is where we live, sometimes with family, children, spouse, roommates, pets and parents.  It is where we keep our thoughts and hopes alive, where we care for ourselves and others. Walls separate us from the outside and we are careful as to who or what we let in. 

The New Normal

In our “normal” working lives, home is where we go to reflect, to regenerate and to come to terms with our problems, both at work and at home. But now we are in a new “COVID-19 normal.” We have lost control of many of our everyday choices. We are living, working, eating, schooling and exercising at home. 

This new normal brings your work colleagues into your home, and not all of them are guests you would have invited into your house three months ago.  Some of them are bullies. 

Having a workplace bully walk through the door of your home is different. 

You are being forced by circumstance to allow the bully in the workplace to walk into your house though the electronic door. This is at best uncomfortable, at worst it is terrifying.

Bullying in the workplace is nothing new. We have talked about it in this series. Part 1 was about recognizing the workplace bully, and Part 2 was about spotting bullying behavior patterns. Future posts will delve into ways employers should deal with workplace bullying and the pain it brings. 

In this new environment there is no escape, no drive time to cool off.  There is no one to go take a break with and commiserate. You cannot get away from the workplace, because now your home is the workplace. Bullying is more personal when it happens in the home.  It has immediate impact on your family.

Now your nemesis at work has access to your loved ones. Your family feels the direct effect of the punch to the gut you feel every time this person enters your life.  Perhaps it is the Zoom conference that is loud, insulting and includes foul language.  What do you tell your children when they hear it?  How does your immediate family feel when they see you squirm?

Quiet time is a luxury that existed before coronavirus. If you have been lucky enough to keep your job, quiet time is now interrupted by emails and Slack at all hours. When you’re dealing with a bully, these communications often include insults. Zoom sessions might include derogatory comments about the home and family members behind you. 

Many people are now in their own personal version of hell. 

Necessary Workplace Practices

Now is not the time to ignore the HR practices put in place when we worked outside.  Now is the time to revisit them.  To rewrite HR guidelines to include mandatory workplace at home etiquette. 

  • DO remind all employees as to what proper behavior is and should be. Lack of formality does not mean lack of decorum. 
  • Set up appropriate policies for reporting and investigating bullying behavior.  Make the process quick and easy. 
  • Ease your employees’ pain by taking action quickly. 
  • If you are in the business of speaking with employers, get the word out now. 

Times are difficult, emotions and anxiety are high, and many people are looking for reassurance and safety. We can be in this together, but only through mutual respect.  You have the right to demand this, both personally and professionally, and employers owe it to their employees to make it happen.

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Jeff Adelson, our General Counsel teaches many companies about how to implement safe practices in the workplace. Please contact us for training on bullying in the workplace at jadelson(at)adelsonmclean(com).

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