As the alleged bullying of Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin continues to make headlines, workplace bullying is once again in the spotlight. Martin’s story, however, is just the most recent of some high profile workplace bullying stories.
Late last year, staff members began coming forward with stories of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s bullying behavior, and it wasn’t so long ago that allegations emerged of bullying against Ann Curry at the ‘Today’ show.
Though we’d like to believe that stories like Martin’s, Christie’s and Curry’s are outliars, the truth is, workplace bullying is not all that uncommon. A 2012 CareerBuilder survey found that more than one third (35 percent) of workers have felt bullied in the workplace.
And yet, people are still hesitant to talk about it: More than half of workers don’t confront their bullies, and only about a quarter report incidents of workplace bullying. Perhaps the most disheartening finding of all: According to the study, the biggest offenders of workplace bullying are often bosses.
What is Workplace Bullying, Anyway?
Though it’s often up for debate what defines workplace bullying, the Workplace Bullying Institute defines it as “the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons” and usually appears in the following forms:
- Verbal abuse.
- Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.
- Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done.
More specific examples come from the aforementioned CareerBuilder study, when participants gave the following ways in which they felt bullied at work:
- Falsely accused of mistakes.
- Held up to different standards than other workers.
- Constantly criticized.
- Yelled at by boss in front of co-workers.
- Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings.
- Gossiped about.
- Someone stole credit for my work.
- Purposely excluded from projects or meetings.
- Picked on for personal attributes.
The High Cost of Workplace Bullying
Not only can workplace bullying negatively affect the victims (such incidents can cause stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, digestive problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other symptoms), but it can also take a toll on the entire company. Consider some of the negative business consequences of workplace bullying:
- High turnover: Workplace bullying has been linked to higher turnover rates, with some reports showing that not only does workplace bullying prompt victims themselves to leave their jobs, but those who witness it as well.
- Lost productivity: Bullied employees often lose their motivation to perform and tend to take more sick days due to stress-related illnesses.
- Damage to the company’s reputation: In today’s social media-driven world, it’s hard to keep a bad reputation at bay. Even if they’re not talking to HR, chances are the bullying victims are telling friends and family about their terrible experiences at your company (and, in the process, turning off potential employees and customers).
- Potential legal costs: In some circumstances, the employer could be found liable for the bullying that takes place in their organization, and may have to pay the employee for any damages incurred as a result of the bullying – not to mention whatever costs you may have to pay for legal proceedings.
Given both the personal and professional ramifications, it is in the best interest of the employer to keep an eye out for workplace bullying – whether you see it or not, as sometimes the signs are very subtle. Create a zero tolerance policy at your organization, and encourage your employees to come forward if they experience bullying. Remember, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.
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