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The Bullying Effect: Costs and Consequences to an Organization

bullyingRemember that bully on the playground in middle school? The one that picked on his classmates? The one that gossiped and spread rumors about her “friends”? The one that made his peers’ lives miserable?

That bully is all grown up now, and he’s in your workplace.

In her session at this year’s CUPA-HR Annual Conference, Dr. Deitra Payne of Limestone College talked about the costs and consequences of workplace bullying.

What Is Workplace Bullying?
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as “mistreatment severe enough to compromise a targeted worker’s health, jeopardize his or her job and career and strain relationships with friends and family.”

Said Payne, “Workplace bullying is a laser-focused, systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction. It has nothing to do with work itself, is driven by the bully’s personal agenda, and prevents work from getting done. It often begins with one person singling out the target, but before long, the bully easily and swiftly recruits others to gang up on the target, which increases the sense of isolation for the target.”

What Constitutes Bullying Behavior?
Bullying behavior comes in many forms. Some common bullying behaviors include aggression, threats or intimidation, sabotaging work, exclusion, verbal abuse, gossiping or spreading rumors, unwarranted criticism, excessive monitoring, and making certain individuals the target of practical jokes.

How Pervasive Is Workplace Bullying?
In a recent WBI survey, 20 percent of respondents reported having been bullied, 21 percent reported having witnessed bullying, 23 percent stated that they were aware of workplace bullying and 7 percent indicated they were currently being bullied. In an audience poll, 65 percent of individuals in Payne’s session said that they had been a victim of workplace bullying.

What Are the Effects of Workplace Bullying on Those Being Bullied?
Countless studies have indicated that individuals who are bullied in the workplace experience increased levels of stress and anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, PTSD and suicide ideation. A recent WBI survey of a self-selected sample of 1,000 individuals being bullied at work found that bullying drove 71 percent of targets to seek treatment from a physician, and 29 percent contemplated suicide.

What Are the Effects of Workplace Bullying on the Organization?
Workplace bullying negatively affects not only the individual being bullied, but also the organization as a whole. Organizations with a pervasive bullying culture see higher turnover rates, lower productivity, increased healthcare costs, higher levels of absenteeism, lower levels of morale, a lack of trust in management and higher litigation costs.

How to Mitigate Workplace Bullying
In her session, Payne offered some strategies for mitigating workplace bullying. Among her suggestions:

  • Work to create a culture of trust and respect (you can find resources and readings on how to do this in the Organizational Climate and Organizational Culture toolkits in the CUPA-HR Knowledge Center);
  • Implement an anti-bullying policy (a quick Google search of “workplace anti-bullying policies” yields several results);
  • Train employees around workplace bullying (what it is, what to do if it happens to you, what to do if you witness it, etc.);
  • Train employees around emotional intelligence.
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