Workplace Abuse: The Role Of HR In Detecting and Preventing This

Workplace abuse is a relatively recent phenomenon that affects millions of employees in all types of organizations and occupations, and it can be described as a pervasive issue that manifests in various forms such as verbal, physical, and psychological mistreatment. In the news each day, the media regularly reports on violence facing society such as child, domestic, or elderly abuse, however, workplace abuse is rarely mentioned. 

This makes you begin to wonder because workplace abuse is indeed a serious concern that affects not only the individuals who are directly targeted but also the entire organization as a whole. Organizations can be said to become abusive when they permit or tolerate abusive employee treatment by supervisors or managers.

Now, workplace abuse has intensified over the last few years due to the economic downturn, massive layoffs, mergers, and restructuring. As a result, many organizations worldwide have been forced to cut jobs, resulting in dramatic increase in workplace stress and abuse. But just as rightly mentioned above, this exists in many forms, therefore, as a human resource professional, line manager or employer, detecting it early is crucial in order to tackle it. 

Detecting workplace abuse 

It is all about “being aware”. This is because being very observant to slight changes in employee behavior can help you detect workplace abuse very early. To highlight this point, let’s touch up on a case study of Alex who noticed that his employee, Sarah, was frequently absent from work and seemed disengaged when she was present. He then decided to have a one-on-one meeting with Sarah to understand the issue better.

During this meeting, Sarah confided in Alex that she was being verbally abused by her supervisor, Michael, who often yelled at her in front of her colleagues, criticized her work excessively, and gave her unrealistic targets. This made Sarah feel helpless and not know what to do.

Upon investigation by Alex, the HR department and the senior management, they found that Michael had a history of abusive behavior towards his subordinates, leading to a disciplinary action being taken against Michael, and of course, Sarah started to perform much better afterwards. 

Now, imagine Alex was a nonchalant boss? That would’ve meant the cycle of abuse continued, ultimately leading to Sarah not only losing her job, but suffering mental health issues as well. This is why observance to employee behavior is very crucial for leaders in the workplace. Having illustrated this, let’s look at how you can certainly prevent workplace abuse from happening in the organization

How to prevent workplace abuse

HR departments play a crucial role in preventing workplace abuse by implementing policies and procedures that create a safe and respectful workplace. Here are some of the ways in which HR can help prevent workplace abuse:

1. Develop a Code of Conduct: A code of conduct is a set of guidelines that outlines acceptable behavior within an organization. HR’s should develop and enforce a code of conduct that prohibits abusive behavior and provides a framework for dealing with workplace abuse.

2. Train Employees: HR managers should provide regular training to employees on workplace harassment and abuse. This training must cover what constitutes abusive behavior, how to report it, and the consequences of engaging in such behavior.

3. Encourage Reporting: It is crucial that HR managers create a safe reporting mechanism that encourages employees to report any incidents of workplace abuse. Also, this reporting mechanism should be confidential and should protect employees from retaliation.

4. Investigate Complaints: When an employee reports workplace abuse, the HR must conduct a thorough investigation into the matter. In addition, the investigation must be impartial, and the outcome should be communicated to the complainant and the accused.

5. Take Action: If the investigation reveals that workplace abuse has occurred, then the HR should take appropriate action. This could include disciplinary action, counseling, or termination, depending on the severity of the abuse.


Workplace abuse, however disguised, can easily be spotted and curtailed by leaders through observance and all the ways we’ve listed above. It is also important to note that spotting/reporting abuse is not the sole function of the HR alone, but rather, everyone should be actively involved in reporting cases of abuse.

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