Bullying Is Bad For Business

I like to read. Pretty much anything I can get my hands on. More and more these days, I find myself reading an assortment of business publications and blogs, and one issue is sticking out to me more and more.

Workplace bullying is taking an enormous toll on business.

In fact, studies show that more than half of all U.S. workers are affected by workplace bullying and up to one fifth of the typical workforce is subjected to bullying at any one time.

I don’t think these are statistics sent out just to be dramatic. And we should be clear, we are not talking about the type of bullying associated with a schoolyard. School-age bullying may tend to be more physical, whereas workplace bullying tends to be more psychological and verbal in nature. It is defined as abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) says it is any behavior that can be considered sabotage or prevents work from getting done. Also, according to WBI, bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job.

Bosses may perceive “bullying” behaviors they witness as just “personality conflicts” but if left unchecked, these behaviors can hurt the bottom line. According to the Bureau of National Affairs, American businesses spend $5 to $6 million per year on workplace bullying. Consequences include high absenteeism and turnover, declined mental and physical health, reduced productivity, internal communication breakdown and risk of bad reputation in the community.

  • It is estimated that 20 percent of employees say workplace bullying cost them upwards of seven hours a week.
  • Every target of a bully may lose up to 200 hours of productivity annually. If that targeted employee takes sick or vacation time, it may be a total of 400 hours of lost production to the employer.

So, if you are not paying attention to this, maybe you should start! Because what makes a bad situation worse, is that often it is the victim of the bullying that will leave the company. And often the victim is one of your best employees. From the materials I have read, here is what I have come to understand: the targets of workplace bullying are not the weakest players, as is sometimes the assumption when it comes to bullying. In fact, studies find these victims are often the strongest employees.

Studies show that people may become targets because they are more skilled, more technically proficient, or people just like them better. These are triggers for bullys, who try to create the perception that they are strong by putting down and blaming others. The WBI says often the boss of the bully knows the bully is “disliked” but makes “allowances.” Again, the bullying is framed as a “personality conflict.”

Still not convinced this is something you should look into? Here are some more startling stats for you to chew on (sources: brandongaille.com and business.com):

  • 72 percent of the adult America public is familiar with instances of workplace bullying
  • 65.6 million people are affected by bullying, including targets and witnesses
  • Targets lose their jobs at a significantly higher rate than perpetrators (82 percent vs. 18 percent)
  • 61 percent of all targets of bullying end up losing their job
  • The percentage of bullies who have been after a specific target for a minimum of 1 year: 89 percent.
  • 54 percent of bullies have been bullying for more than 5 years
  • 80 percent of bullies have a negative effect on 5 or more co-workers
  • Bosses make up the majority of bullies.
  • Co-workers rarely help the targets of bullying.
  • 51percent of employees say their company has a policy for dealing with bullies, but only 7 percent who are aware of a policy against bullying know of anyone who has ever used it
  • Women [53 percent] are more likely to be bullies in the workplace than men [47 percent].
  • 62 percent saw sabotaging of others’ work or reputations as the primary form of bullying in the workplace
  • The statistics aren’t much better when monitoring the response by co-workers.
  • Less than 20 percent of employers will help a bullied target.
  • Most bullying targets are seen by co-workers as kind, cooperative, and agreeable people.
  • 23.5 percent of those who indicated they had been bullied stated that the bully did not act alone and that there were others involved.

Workplace bullying is getting the attention of lawmakers as well who are efforting protection from workplace bullying. Currently, 29 states and two U.S. territories have introduced a version of The Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), which is aimed at precisely defining an “abusive work environment,” providing specific rights for victims and protecting employers who take action against workplace bullies.

So you want to increase productivity at your company? Make sure bullying is not the underlying issue for performance issues. Create a culture of caring. When co-workers get along, production rates are higher. Bullying is not just a schoolyard problem anymore. And it isn’t an employee problem, it’s an employer problem.

More resources on workplace bullying:

Workplace Bullying Institute

Job Accommodations Network

Employer Assistance and Resource Network

Lisa Cownie

Editor of Connect Business Magazine