Bullying has been in the news a lot recently. One will practically see a new article every day about kids being bullied in school. Sometimes parents, teachers, empathetic kids, or the victim themselves, puts a stop to the problem. Sometimes the bully just gets a pass, and never grows up. One such case of a bully never growing up involved Richie Incognito, the Miami Dolphins’ offensive guard. He made national news in recent months for his notorious bullying of teammate Jonathan Martin. With his antics, Incognito caused a large amount of disturbance for his teammates. He also dragged the entire Miami Dolphins program through the slime and mud. Unfortunately, Incognito is not the only employee to damage business for his organization by believing that being a jerk is “cool” or “fun.” Workplace bullying is a fairly common problem across the professional landscape. It can also cause serious discontent among employees, and feelings aren’t the only things that get hurt. Internal taunting and harassment also hurt profits, the Holy Grail for every employer
In an article on Stuff.com, New Zealander, Shane Cowishlaw, writes that workplace bullying costs his country “hundreds of millions” of dollars. Australia reports losses in the billions. Not surprisingly for companies in the much larger United States, workplace bullying related costs are estimated to be over $200 billion. According to New Zealand News, workplace bullying affects about one in five employees.
How does workplace bullying harm profits? The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) describes workplace bullying in part, as behavior that prevents work from being finished. Losses are caused by staff members struggling to cope at work, high rates of absenteeism and talented employees leaving in favor of a more harmonious place of employment. However, people leaving the organization is only one way workplace antagonism hurts profits. Psychology Today cites a study of British and Swedish employees and the level of harmony they feel with their boss. Those who had negative relations with management reported substantially higher rates of heart-related problems. Healthier employees mean less insurance costs to the employer.
One problem is senior management’s own short-sightedness. Since workplace bullies often get better short-term results, employers too often tolerate them. Concern for long-term impact is often jettisoned for the current month’s sales report. Reflecting back to the problem involving Incognito and the Miami Dolphins, sometimes supervisors allow or engage in bullying as a sort of “discipline” or “tough love.” Such was supposedly the case when Dolphins coaching staff told Incognito to “toughen up” Martin.
Finally, though lawsuits are rare when it comes to workplace bullying, they do happen. Last month The Dayton Daily News mentioned a long-term trucking company employee who settled a suit against her former employer. The case stemmed from the boss bullying his employee.
How does workplace bullying occur? The more overt versions include insults, unreasonable demands, and disregarding accomplishments. Meanwhile, the bully will overly mention their own accomplishments. Author Lisa Barrow states that workplace bullies are often “Type A” personalities, exhibiting a sort of Jekyll-Hyde pattern. When things run smoothly, the bully is content. However when under pressure, or receiving reprimand from their own boss, the internal “Edward Hyde” reveals itself. The result is a staff that constantly feels as though it is carrying around a serving tray of nitroglycerin when in close proximity to their boss.
Employers are becoming more acutely aware of the human and financial costs associated with workplace bullying. Google, regularly considered among the best companies to work for, has long had a “no jerk” policy when it comes to hiring supervisors. If HR managers and senior level executives take initiative in addressing bullying early on, much larger financial problems will be avoided.
By Ian Erickson