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Bullies Take Toll On Bottom Line

headline franke james; licensed bully illustration ©iStockphoto.com/ Dan Bailey

BY JOHN A. CHALLENGER

With policies firmly in place to address sexual harassment and discrimination, the next big initiative among the nation’s employers could be to root out workplace bullies – a widespread problem that is affecting companies’ bottom lines through lost productivity, low morale, legal costs, and, according to a survey, employee turnover.

Nearly one in three (29 percent) human resource executives surveyed have seen one or more employees at their companies quit as a direct result of workplace bullying, according to a survey conducted among 100 human resource professionals by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement and business coaching consultancy.

The survey also found that one-third of the human resource executives have personally witnessed or experienced workplace bullying.

Statistically, bullying is far more prevalent than sexual harassment, workplace violence or racial discrimination and the long-term costs to the organization are significant. Yet bullying remains one of the most overlooked problems by management and the courts.

This is probably due in large part to the fact that qualities like aggression, a survival-of-the-fittest spirit, and a win-at-all-costs approach are often rewarded in business. These qualities may have their place, but more and more companies are learning – with Enron serving as the poster child – that overemphasizing these qualities can be detrimental.

Companies are beginning to take action against bullies. Of the survey respondents reporting that an employee quit, 83 percent said disciplinary action was taken against the offender.

All of the human resource executives reported that no litigation had resulting from the bullying-related departures, but the companies undoubtedly incurred heavy costs related to the loss of employees.

Each company that loses an employee due to a workplace bully has to replace that person. The cost of replacement can be as high as 150 percent of the former worker’s salary, when you take into account the cost of recruiting, training, lost customer service, etc. In a tight labor market like the one we are in now, the cost may be even higher.

Robert Sutton in his book, The No Asshole Rule, cites one company that estimated losses of $160,000 annually in turnover, overtime and dealing with problems caused by one star sales performer’s bad temper and insulting behavior.

It is in a company’s best interest to identify bullies and coach them to change their ways or, failing that, remove them. Of course, one of the challenges companies will face in weeding out workplace bullies is identifying them. People can have widely varying ideas of what constitutes bullying. One person might see a supervisor or co-worker as a bully, but others might simply see a demanding, hard-driving employee.

As noted by one survey respondent who wished to remain anonymous, “The perception of bullying depends a great deal on the sensitivity of the individual. Unfortunately, behavior that is seen as a firm response by one person is perceived as verbal abuse and bullying by another. This is a topic that is receiving far more attention than it should and can be very disruptive in the workplace — supervisors are now walking on eggshells.”

The comment certainly demonstrates how difficult it could be to get everyone on the same page regarding the problem of bullying. It will depend heavily on the corporate culture that exists at each company.

The Workplace Bullying Institute, which seeks to increase and improve laws protecting workers from bullies, defines bullying as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

· Verbal abuse
· Threatening, humiliating or offensive behavior/actions
· Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done.

Some companies avoid bullies by creating a corporate culture where such behavior is simply not tolerated.

In one example, SuccessFactor Inc., a human resources management software firm, counts the following among its five founding principles, which can be found at the company’s website (www.successfactor.com):

No jerks! Our organization will consist only of people that absolutely love what we do, with a white hot passion. We will have utmost respect for the individual in a collaborative, egalitarian, and meritocratic environment – no blind copying, no politics, no parochialism, no silos, no games, no cynicism, no arrogance – just being good!

CHALLENGER SURVEY ON BULLIES IN THE WORKPLACE
(The survey was conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., among 100 human resource executives, representing a variety of industries nationwide.)

Has an employee at your company quit due to a workplace bully?
(i.e. an employee who is overly aggressive, verbally and/or physically abusive, uses intimidation, etc.)
No 71%
Yes 29%

If Yes:
No action was taken 17%
Action was taken to discipline the offender 83%
The bullying resulted in litigation 0%

Have you ever personally witnessed or experienced bullying?
No 67%
Yes 33%


John A. Challenger John A. Challenger is chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., the global outplacement consultancy that pioneered outplacement as an employer-paid benefit in the 1960s. Challenger is a recognized thought leader on workplace, labor, and economic issues.

Bullies Take Toll On Bottom Line © 2008, Challenger, Gray & Christmas;


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  1. 4 Answers to “Bullies Take Toll On Bottom Line”

  2. I was bullied by my old boss — she used to make my life hell when I worked for her. I reported my findings to HR (I had documented proof of the bullying) and they basically advised me they understood and would support a transfer, but that she needed to agree. When she found out I went to HR, she retaliated. I ended up quitting the job, but even then when I put my two week notice in (she called HR and shortened it to one week — this was the day after she asked me to give three weeks notice instead) and she told me HR wanted me to leave at the end of the first week. I then called HR to ask them why and they said that my boss told them I wanted to leave at the end of the week. I of course had proof via a resignation letter that I gave her a separate notice. She also tried to dock me my vacation time (I earned it) and the rest of my pay for the time work that was owed to me. HR ended up paying me for the time lost and admitted I was not the first to come forward about her behavior. Yet, she is still there in her high powered position and I was forced to leave the company.

    By John on Jun 11, 2008

  3. It never fails that HR plays politics and the lowly employee ends up having the ‘short end of the stick’- for want of a better word.

    By cee cee on Jun 27, 2008

  4. I actually wrote a letter, further down on the main page “I escaped but the snake is still loose”…

    From my experience with a workplace bully, I want to get involved with how we can hold them legally accountable. It’s a horrible situation to be in, and unfair that there is nothing one can do. These people do not deserve to be overlooked, they are affecting people’s lives negatively every day.

    By Jane on Jul 15, 2008

  5. Same here, some men, do have the habit of listening to women when it comes to work. They have the know it all attitude. I have the misfortune of work with a bunch of Know it all’s. When ever i approach them for any information, it is always a run around, or a rude behviour from all. This is getting to a point of unbareable. Mostly i do not want to talk to them at all. Any suggestions ?

    By dm on Jul 26, 2008

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