Workplace Bullying – Why You Should Take It Seriously

Workplace Bullying takes a huge toll, both financially and personally, on a company and its employees.

When discussing workplace bullying, we use the term “target” to represent the person who is being bullied; the person doing the bullying is called the “aggressor”.

Some conditions that can lead to workplace bullying include a competitive work culture (pitting employees against each other to reach sales or other targets); job insecurity (rumours of layoffs, financial hardship for the company, etc.), and stressful work environments (long hours, no recognition, unclear reporting channels).

Bullying comes in many forms, some are obvious and some are not.  There are actually four types of workplace aggression:

  1. Direct Aggression: This includes threats to the target’s professional status or public humiliation (reports, true or not, to a regulatory body or spreading rumours about work habits); verbal cues (embarrassing call-outs at a meeting) and non-verbal body language such as rolling of eyes, hand gestures or slumping in the chair while a person is speaking or presenting.
  2. Indirect Aggression: placing undue pressure to perform on an employee; or unrealistic performance measures or deadlines (i.e. giving the target only a few hours to compile an important, lengthy report)
  3. Relational Aggression: Denial of opportunities (promotions etc.); destabilization of the working relationship; failing to acknowledge the employee and/or their accomplishments (i.e. manager takes credit for worker’s efforts)
  4. Social Aggression: manipulation of the group and “planting seeds of doubt” (i.e. convincing coworkers that the target is unable to handle a task); or social or physical isolation (not inviting the target to a company function).

Workplace Bullying and the related intentional and systemic psychological harm can cause severe emotional and physical reactions in the target(s).

  • Targeted workers suffer from much lower job satisfaction and a number of physical ailments such as high blood pressure, sleep deprivation, and eating disorders.
  • 30% of targeted workers have reported suffering from Depression (the actual percentage is likely much higher), while 10% have expressed suicidal thoughts. (Check out the study here)

Direct costs include lawsuits by targeted employees, money for termination/severance packages for aggressors, replacement costs of both the dismissed aggressor and possibly the target, and training for the new employee(s).

Indirect costs are lower productivity, low morale, and increases in sick day use and absenteeism.

You can help your employees to avoid the problems associated with workplace bullying by doing the following:

  • Preparing and implementing clear policies on workplace conduct and behaviour,
  • Providing training on workplace bullying – awareness, signs and signals, how to respond
  • Promptly investigating ALL complaints of inappropriate workplace conduct
  • Being proactive – fostering a workplace culture that does not promote bullying, offer conflict resolution or mediation, and perhaps counselling through an Employee Assistance Program.

For more information on the toxic effects of Workplace Bullying, read “In Darkness Light Dawns” by Dr. Lisa M. S. Barrow.