Workplace bullying continues to surface as an issue that appears in the news – not because it is new but because society has become more aware of it. Companies are also starting to become aware of just what workplace bullying costs them. The costs of workplace bullying may not be directly obvious at first, but companies should consider the following – especially as between 25% and 50% of the workforce have been victims of bullying at some point. Below is a list of the costs to companies of workplace bullying:
1. Loss of productivity. People who are being bullied simply are not responsive in their output, and are distracted by the situation. Additionally, if somebody is bullying or harassing their co-workers, they are generally not working. People may also waste time by trying to avoid the person giving them trouble, such as taking a longer route back from the copier.
2. Loss of time. Bullied employees are prone to call in sick, avoid working overtime and otherwise try to evade the situation. They may well use all of their vacation time. Conversely, if they are afraid for their job, they may come in when they are sick – giving the bug to everyone in the office. “Presenteeism” as it is called may eventuate where worker is not mentally switched on and goes through the motions.
3. Turnover. Any time an employee quits, it costs to train their replacement. A workplace bully has the capacity to drive multiple people out of their jobs – and not just the victim of the bullying. The toxic environment created can also influence peoples decision to leave
4. Reputation. If a company builds a reputation for not looking aftertheir employees well it bears to insignificance if the root cause is a single bully or company policy – customers will look elsewhere. This is particularly relevant for retail outlets and other companies that deal directly with the public.
5. Sick time. In addition to taking sick time just to avoid the bully – victims may actually become sick. Bullying can trigger incapacitating migraines, cause mental health problems, and cause or aggravate high blood pressure. All of this can result in more lost time and higher health insurance premiums. It can even result in workers’ comp claims.
6. Legal issues. Some states, including Pennsylvania, have introduced anti-bullying legislation, which makes employers liable for the action of the bully. Also, 20% of bullying cases involve some form of discrimination – that is, the bully may be targeting a minority, a woman, or somebody who is or perceived to be gay. Most cases are settled, but employers can end up paying a lot of money in compensation and legal costs.
7. Rehabilitation. A bullied employee who does not want to leave may require counseling.
So, what can companies do? It behoves employers to take workplace bullying seriously. Here are some fundamental things employers can employ to prevent or stop workplace bullying:
1. Have a formal and well established process for grievances whether up or down the line. In other words, have a system for addressing performance issues that dissuades supervisors from belittling or raising their voice, and a proper system for grievances against superiors that allows employees to feel they are being heard.
2. Take grievances seriously. Far too often, a supervisor who bullies those under him gets away with it, with higher management (especially if they are not present) arguing that the complaining employees are just “lazy” or “not taking direction.” Pay attention to how many complaints you are getting – if everyone under a supervisor is involved in the complaint it is more likely to be serious than one person. While some people are just saying their boss is too tough, others may actually be telling the truth.
3. Have a policy and prevention plan in place. Educate everyone as to what bullying is and make sure everyone knows that yelling or screaming, personal insults, sexual comments, etc are not acceptable from anyone to anyone.
4. Hold confirmed bullies responsible. Once you have strong evidence somebody is a bully (and consider asking somebody the bully does not know to quietly observe their actions) from interviews or observation, have the person apologize. You can also send a bully for retraining. And, of course, you should always consider terminating a serial bully. No matter how good they are, or appear to be, at their job, if they are ruining everyone else’s work environment, they need to go.
5. Last, but not least, take a hard look at your management style and make sure you are not crossing the line yourself. Pay attention to whether people are comfortable disagreeing with you, your employee turnover rate related to other parts of the organization or other similar organizations, your absentee rate, etc.
Workplace bullying is a problem that does have a solution – but it means you have to take the problem seriously and take a hard line against it – and set a good example yourself.
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