November 28, 2014

Workplace Bullying Can Hurt Your Business

How can workplace bullying hurt your business? Let me count the ways. If your employees are being bullied, they could quit, retaliate or even develop health problems as a result of the stress. All of these can cost your company time, money, hassles and more.

workplace bullying

If you think workplace bullying can’t happen at your business, then you may want to read the results of a CareerBuilder study conducted earlier this year that found bullying in the workplace is on the rise. More than one-third (35 percent) of employees report feeling bullied at work, compared to 27 percent last year. Bullying drove 17 percent of these workers to quit their jobs and 16 percent to develop health problems.

You may think there’s no workplace bullying in your business because no one’s complained to you or your managers. Well, more than half (57 percent) of employees never report the problem to anyone. And of the 27 percent who have reported a bullying issue, more than half say nothing was ever done about it.

Bullying doesn’t always come from an employee’s boss. Co-workers account for almost half of bullying incidents, and 31 percent of employees report they’ve been bullied by customers.

Having managed employees for many years, I can attest that workplace bullying can be hard to spot. What seems like bullying to the victim may seem to you like nothing more than two employees joking around. Being yelled at by a boss or being insulted during a meeting are obvious incidents of bullying, but respondents in the survey were more likely to cite “not being acknowledged,” “double standards” or “being left out” as examples of bullying.

In other words, the guy who never gets invited to lunch may feel more upset about being “bullied” than the guy who just got dressed down at the sales meeting.

Given that bullying is so subjective, you may feel there’s no way to protect your business. In reality, there are several. First, develop a comprehensive grievance policy for your business that states what employees should do if they have a problem with a co-worker or supervisor.

Second, if employees do come to you or a manager with a complaint, take it seriously. (I can’t emphasize this enough.) Talk to the victim, then to the alleged bully, documenting both discussions. Don’t be accusatory but do try to get to the facts of the situation. Then bring the two workers together to come up with ideas for how the problem can be solved.

You’ll find that the majority of workplace bullying incidents, when treated respectfully and positively, resolve very easily. If the problem escalates, continue documenting the situation while trying to resolve the problem. If necessary, get help from an attorney experienced in human resource issues. Hopefully, you won’t have to go there.

As a small business owner, you and your managers are the eyes and ears of your company. No matter how busy you are, make it a point to get out and walk around your business every day and find out what’s going on. With a little sensitivity, you’ll pick up on problems before they get out of hand.

Have you ever had workplace bullying in your business and, if so, what did you do about it?

Office Bully Photo via Shutterstock

12 Comments ▼

Rieva Lesonsky


Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a staff writer for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Google+ and visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

12 Reactions

  1. Rieva,

    It’s awful the think that bullying would still occur in your adult years, especially at your work place. People need to really grow up and take a hard look at what they’re doing. Bullying is horrible and no one deserves it. We already have our children suffering from it, even killing themselves over it. Why should we have to deal with it in our later years?

  2. This is epidemic and is destroying workers and entire families all over the world. From constant critique, public humiliation, threats, intrusions and more. It is consistent and repetitive with the intent to demean and diminish the target. This will usually come from employees that have had some measure of discipline issue or low productivity.
    The target is likely a kind, empathetic non-political person who is very concerned with productivity. The worst are bystanders. They will take up with the harassers as a form of self preservation. All within the environment will be tense and conflicts and malicious acts will pop up all over the company and environment. Severe workplace bullying thrives because companies are grossly unethical and cover over, condone and promote the behavior. Bullies know this and thus they persist. This is when you see workplace shootings. It is a severe problem as families earn in order to thrive and remain on a successful life path. Bulling usually leaves the target destitute, depressed and entire families downtrodden.

    What is worse are the unethical, voluntarily blind HR and management. They will pretend to intervene and be anything of decency, when they promote this and care none. That is until there is a shooting.

  3. Six years ago I worked for a big box store as a kitchen designer. The two women I worked with who were supposed to be my mentors became my tormentors! I didn’t recognize it as bullying because we weren’t as attuned to it then. It began when I complained that one of them had written up my sale in her name. It got worse. Finally after five months, I knew I had to find another job for my own sanity. I called everywhere & found another job as a private company where my work was respected. So the store lost a productive employee & retained two shrews! HR & my manager seemed powerless to do anything about this situation. They seemed shocked when I submitted my resignation.

    • Hmm, it’s quite sad that HR (and your manager) felt powerless to do anything about it when it’s the very department that was in the position to do something.

      I’m sorry you went through that. Glad you found the courage to move yourself out of the situation. It shouldn’t have gotten to that though. You shouldn’t have been the one to step up.

  4. “One bad apple spoils the bunch.”

    One bully can drive considerable talent from an organization. The most talented will ignore the bully and leave. They will not waste time or risk their own reputation and career by notifying HR or Superiors. The least talented may attempt to find other employment, yet when unsuccessful act-out against the company (whether or not intentionally) by reducing their productivity, opting to take “mental-health” sick days, venting publicly about the company’s culture and poor leadership, pilfering office supplies, stealing customer and vendor lists, and transferring trade secrets to outsiders. Essentially, bullying leads to disloyalty.

    Very often these issues do not get ferreted out and dealt with until the organization is involved in a Merger or Acquisition or Joint Venture deal and identifying whom will be in which roles going forward is being planned. The issue surfaces when I am consulting clients on strategic planning and organization design often associated with reorganizations, restructurings or an M&A deal.

    It is possible to create a professional and collegial culture, even allowing some good-natured mischief. To do so requires a mix of thoughtful organization strategy and management policies and practices. For companies considering a sale, merger, joint venture, or other strategic alliance, it is an issue to be resolved before the other party does due diligence on your organization. Not addressing it will likely result in lower value realized from the deal or the other party killing the deal. [edited by Editor]

  5. Any time morale is threatened, production goes down. bullies are definitely bad for business.

  6. Bullying is still one for more reasons business faced nowadays. It so disappointed that there are work mates or people that still do bullying although they are in the right age. I think businesses must focus on this problem and think for a better solution to avoid it.

  7. A facility engineer in my former employer had bullied me in various manner.
    He insulted me , using hurtful and abusive langauges , he behaved and shouted and scolded me violently over a document he claimed missing. This incident still made me feel very hurt and injured mentally till this day.

    [Edited by Editor to remove names]

    • Loo, I’m sorry you experienced that. No one deserves such treatment, in any environment. Though it’s not an easy thing for you to heal from or forget, I hope in time, you’re in a better place, for your sake.

      Take care…

  8. I’ve never experienced bullying in the workplace, neither have I seen it happen. I was bullied as a child though, so I know the feeling.

    If it ever happened in the workplace to a colleague, I’d hope I’d have the instincts to notice it and do something about it. Psychologically, bullying’s a terrible thing to experience at any age.

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