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Workplace Bullies: Taking “Sticks and Stones” to a New Level

We are all dealing with changes big or small as a result of recent economic events, and for the most part, we’re doing our best to take them in stride. One change that I’ve been reading more and more about lately, however, reveals a disturbing twist in the workplace landscape. According to a recent article on BNET, workplace bullies are out of the sandbox and on the rise in offices everywhere.

Okay, maybe not everywhere. But Preparis, Inc. a leader in work force preparedness solutions, forecasts that incidents of workplace violence could potentially rise as down-on-their-luck U.S. workers anticipate more layoffs this quarter and also continue to feel the pressure of putting food on the table for their families during the busy holiday season. As many workers fear that their homes, finances and jobs are threatened, they may turn to desperate measures to make ends meet – or take their stress out on those they work (and feel most comfortable) with. Preparis also mentions some warning signs of high stress that employers should watch out for.

Results from a 2007 WBI-Zogby survey of 7,440 American workers revealed that 37 percent, or an estimated 54 million people, have been bullied at work, and many lawyers say that bullying-related litigation is on the rise, particularly in light of our recent economic woes.

The effects are being felt abroad, too. The UK’s Chartered Management Institute has found that, in comparing recent results of their workplace bullying survey with survey results from three years ago, bullying appears to be on the rise across all organizations. Jo Causon, director of marketing and corporate affairs at CMI, says, “In the current economic climate, the pressure to deliver is more acute than ever, but the need to perform should not be seen as an excuse to bully.”  She adds, “Now, more than ever, the ability of the UK’s managers and leaders to set a good example is paramount.”

Why do workers or managers turn to bullying?

The reasons are varied. Behaviors leading to bullying may stem from an employee feeling rejected or overlooked in getting a promotion or raise, or from being angry because of catching talk of potential layoffs. Of course, this type of behavior can also trace back to psychological problems, alcohol or drug addiction, or stress in one’s personal life, among other things.

Why should you care? The cost to your employees – and you

Bullying is not only harmful for the employees experiencing it, but it also has a significant impact on the workplace environment as a whole. Bullying affects morale, motivation, and productivity, as well as your organization’s bottom line. Over 2 million managers and other professionals leave their jobs every year due solely to workplace unfairness, including bullying.

WBI lists out the costs for employers – which encompass much more than just monetary losses.

These include:

  • Turnover costs – lost efficiency; recruitment costs, and more
  • Litigation costs – attorney costs; settlement fees; etc.
  • Talent flight – loss of your best and brightest
  • Bad reputation and bad PR
  • Former employee sabotage

How to combat workplace bullying

BNet has a great “crash course” on how to handle workplace bullies (and what not to do). While the full document is here and I can’t fully do it justice, I’ve listed out some highlights below:

  1. Identify a true bully. Understand what constitutes bullying and recognize it in action.
  2. Confront the person sooner, not later. Act fast to show that your company won’t tolerate bad behavior.
  3. Enforce a clear action plan. Determine if the person should be written up, get counseling, lose pay, or ultimately be fired.
  4. Devise your own policy for a civilized workplace. Create a corporate culture of respect.
  5. 5. Screen for bullies in the recruiting process. Stop the problem from recurring by identifying bullies during the hiring process.

I think that D.H. Lawrence’s character George says it well in Touch and Go:
I think we ought to be able to alter the whole system—but not by bullying, not because one lot wants what the other has got.

Thoughts?

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.
8 comments
Robert J. Glogowski
Robert J. Glogowski

This is happening in more ways than I can express them. My story tells a true event of exactly this fact as it happened to me in todays industry. Not only did it leave me without a job I have been unable to find work because it. What will it take to put a stop to this in today job market and what are you going to do when it happens to you some day?

Robert J. Glogowski
Robert J. Glogowski

This is happening in more ways than I can express them. My story tells a true event of exactly this fact as it happened to me in todays industry. Not only did it leave me without a job I have been unable to find work because it. What will it take to put a stop to this in today job market and what are you going to do when it happens to you some day?

Amy Chulik
Amy Chulik

Ron, thanks for your comment. I was a bit surprised too - although I believe that some of this news is speculation of what is to come in light of the economic downturn.

And I agree - "bullies" have more of an origin; if one is a bully, they likely didn't get that way overnight, and there have likely been long-term patterns of bullying behavior.

However, because of increased stress and stress factors in many workplaces, negative or caustic behavior may be more easily triggered because of recent events and added stress on workers...and workplace violence may be on the rise.

Amy Chulik
Amy Chulik

Ron, thanks for your comment. I was a bit surprised too - although I believe that some of this news is speculation of what is to come in light of the economic downturn.

And I agree - "bullies" have more of an origin; if one is a bully, they likely didn't get that way overnight, and there have likely been long-term patterns of bullying behavior.

However, because of increased stress and stress factors in many workplaces, negative or caustic behavior may be more easily triggered because of recent events and added stress on workers...and workplace violence may be on the rise.

md doucet
md doucet

As a father of quintuplets, I know the stress of covering the family table. I was recently released from a career based decision that i thought, was a very good security decision, it was, but didnt last. I had turned down 2 other job offers that were better,as far as monitarily, but i went with the better long haul company.
After getting my feet wet, a person called me in and gave me a few details of a large mouth that was throwing sharp knives. A shake up! So i continued w/my kind nature. Then was told that i had to let go of an offtime occupation that was bringing in $ on my 2weeks in. They said that it would be in my best interest because "some person" thought i was just working here to quit and stay with the home JOB! My ignorance complied; 3 weeks later, I was let go because i rubbed some team mate the wrong way!
Long story short, I proved they were full of it. It was a lie, and I interviewed every person involved. Not one person who supposedly had anything to do with this farce, said it was true! I then arranged to have a meeting w/ the company owner, and the subcontractor, neither had the jewels or the heart to step up and admit that it was a very large mistake. The quintuplets will have to do without this year. But they said good luck, How Nice!
All the honest co-workers attempted to bring me back. They refused to give in to this adult adolecents. (spelling isnt it great? nuculer!)!

md doucet
md doucet

As a father of quintuplets, I know the stress of covering the family table. I was recently released from a career based decision that i thought, was a very good security decision, it was, but didnt last. I had turned down 2 other job offers that were better,as far as monitarily, but i went with the better long haul company.
After getting my feet wet, a person called me in and gave me a few details of a large mouth that was throwing sharp knives. A shake up! So i continued w/my kind nature. Then was told that i had to let go of an offtime occupation that was bringing in $ on my 2weeks in. They said that it would be in my best interest because "some person" thought i was just working here to quit and stay with the home JOB! My ignorance complied; 3 weeks later, I was let go because i rubbed some team mate the wrong way!
Long story short, I proved they were full of it. It was a lie, and I interviewed every person involved. Not one person who supposedly had anything to do with this farce, said it was true! I then arranged to have a meeting w/ the company owner, and the subcontractor, neither had the jewels or the heart to step up and admit that it was a very large mistake. The quintuplets will have to do without this year. But they said good luck, How Nice!
All the honest co-workers attempted to bring me back. They refused to give in to this adult adolecents. (spelling isnt it great? nuculer!)!

Ron Meledandri - Sentra Business Solutions
Ron Meledandri - Sentra Business Solutions

Screening for bullies is a good idea, but how do you screen for bullies? The hiring process is difficult. Anyone who has hired more than five people knows that you can easily be fooled. When you are interviewing a job candiddate, you are seeing him/her demonstrating their best behavior.

I am surprised to hear that bulling increases in difficult economic time. I have always beleived that a bully acts that way REGARDLESS of economic times and regardless of the financial condition of the company for which he/she works. A bully usually has low self-esteem. That is why they bully others - to make themselves feel better.

Ron Meledandri - Sentra Business Solutions
Ron Meledandri - Sentra Business Solutions

Screening for bullies is a good idea, but how do you screen for bullies? The hiring process is difficult. Anyone who has hired more than five people knows that you can easily be fooled. When you are interviewing a job candiddate, you are seeing him/her demonstrating their best behavior.

I am surprised to hear that bulling increases in difficult economic time. I have always beleived that a bully acts that way REGARDLESS of economic times and regardless of the financial condition of the company for which he/she works. A bully usually has low self-esteem. That is why they bully others - to make themselves feel better.

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