Schools may have taken the issue of bullying head-on, but employees are often hard-pressed to do anything about the bully in the next cubicle. The Workplace Bullying Institute's 2014 US Workplace Bullying Survey found that employers most often react to bullying by denying or discounting it, and few take positive steps to stop the behavior.
Workplace bullying is a systematic campaign of mistreatment of another that entails verbal abuse, work interference and/or threatening, humiliating or intimidating offensive conduct. Some examples include threats of violence, blackmail, excluding an employee from activities, purposefully ignoring his or her work or contributions and spreading rumors about a co-worker.
In 2014, 27% of respondents identified themselves as victims of workplace bullying and 21% witnessed it firsthand. However, despite 72% of survey respondents being aware of workplace bullying as a problem, few employers have clear policies handling the issue of workplace bullying. In fact, most (72%) indicated employers took no positive action to curb bullying, with 25% of employers denying it, 16% discounting it and 15% rationalizing the perpetrator's actions.
The unwillingness of employers to properly address bullying ignores the significant impact such conduct has on an organization. The emotional and physical effects of bullying include depression, low self-esteem, insomnia, digestive upset and high blood pressure. Bullying also affects the workplace through —
Increased absenteeism due to stress-related illnesses;
Lower productivity from unmotivated employees;
Lost innovations when bullies inhibit victims from generating or sharing new ideas; and
Difficulty hiring quality employees if a company is perceived as having a hostile work environment.
Employers can also lose quality employees, as bullies are generally less qualified employees who are threatened by — and thereby target — more skilled employees. In fact, 61% of respondents reported that bullying only stopped when the victim lost his or her job. Some former victims who participated in the survey acknowledged that they voluntarily quit due to escalating health issues (29%) or because the situation was so bad they could no longer handle working with the perpetrator (19%), while another 13% had their employment involuntarily terminated.
In addition to cost and productivity factors, bullying can also expose employers to claims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation, or to lawsuits under state tort and workers' compensation laws.
With nearly 14 million adults in America being bullied at work — and millions more experiencing the degrading effects of witnessing that treatment — employers need to address workplace bullying seriously by adopting a clearly defined anti-bullying policy.