Workplace Bullying Affects the Bottom Line

Workplace bullying is frighteningly common and takes an enormous toll on businesses. Hurtful behavior can depress performance, increase employee turnover and even mar customer relations. According to a poll conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) and Zogby Analytics, 37 percent of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work; another 21 percent have witnessed it; and 72 percent are aware that workplace bullying happens.

So what exactly is meant by office bullying? The WBI defines workplace bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, intimidating or work-interference, i.e. sabotage, which prevents work from getting done.

“Violence in the workplace has a spectrum of behaviors: from bullying on one end to stalking and acts of physical violence on the other,” says Jorge Cherbosque, a professor at the Anderson School of Management, and Staff and Counseling Center Director at the University of California Los Angeles and a YPO certified forum facilitator. “Companies need to take bullying behaviors very seriously as they may be the beginning to a path that will lead to serious violence.”

Profile of a workplace bully

Targets of workplace bullying are not the weakest players — they are often the strongest according to WBI. People become targets because something about them is threatening to the bully. Often, they are more skilled, more technically proficient, have a higher EQ or people just like them better. They are often workplace veterans who mentor new hires.

WBI research findings and conversations with thousands of targets have confirmed that targets appear to be the veteran and most skilled person in the workgroup.

The bully tends to be someone who is skilled at manipulating and controlling, but while they see everything as a competition, they do not feel skilled or competent enough to compete on their own merits. Hence, they bully as a futile attempt to feel more powerful.

“Bullies create great trauma for the victims who feel powerless, shame, anger, depression and hopeless,” explains Cherbosque. “Some of these acts of bullying can lead to suicidal ideation. In addition, bullying fosters a climate of disrespect and lack of trust and safety in the team and the organization.”

What it costs your company

As a leader of an organization, allowing bullying to continue creates numerous problems that eventually affect your bottom line. The target of the bullying will experience a loss of confidence and an increase in stress that often shows up in health problems. Allowing bullying to continue also creates a toxic culture, reduced performance and morale. Plus, you have the almost certain guarantee that the cycle will repeat itself. You are also opening up your business to potential litigation. “In the United States, individual states protect victims of bullying with laws that security personal in your organizations can use to set boundaries,” says Cherbosque. “Early intervention and boundary setting can also let potential employees who are perpetrators know ahead of time that this behavior will not be tolerated.”

What can be done?

Wise employers aren’t waiting for public mandates and are implementing anti-bullying policies as a way to retain employees, stimulate recruitment, and maintain a healthy, happy and more productive workforce. Proper preventing workplace bullying training can help organizations to maintain efficiency and productivity within the workplace.

Here are a few initial steps Cherbosque suggests companies put into place immediately:

  • Establish clear policies and protocols against bullying behaviors.
  • Provide mandatory training for your workforce with clear examples on what constitute bullying and what to do if you are a victim.
  • Create an office with professionals from labor relations, legal, counseling and security to receive bullying claims and develop an action plan to respond.
  • Provide counseling resources for both the victim and the perpetrator.
  • Develop a toll-free telephone line so employees can anonymously report bullying.
  • Create campaigns educating and branding the concept that the company is committed to a respectful and inclusive workplace.
  • Offer manager training oriented toward identifying bullying and how to refer cases when they witness bullying in the workplace.

“The earlier you intervene, the sooner you will prevent escalating acts of violence,” explains Cherbosque. “Anti-bullying and zero tolerance policies can establish standards that if violated, can lead to disciplinary actions and termination.”

Mary Sigmond is a content strategist, an award-winning storyteller and editor in chief of YPO's Ignite digital magazine. She has the pleasure of telling the engaging stories of some of the most influential young business leaders who are making an impact across the globe.