The Hidden Costs of Workplace Bullying

Bullying is the topic that won’t go away. With the recent high profile case of the Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin challenging the testosterone fueled world of NFL locker rooms, the topic of bullying in the workplace looks to be a new hot button issue that will require companies to evaluate their current human resource policies.

While it is easy to try and explain away the Martin case as an isolated incident involving overpaid emotionally immature athletes, recent studies of the American workplace indicate that bullying appears to be a more a more prevalent issue than previously imagined.  In a 2011 poll conducted by the Harvard Business Review, half of the respondents indicated that they had received some form of repeated uncivil behavior in the workplace.  - “In 2011 half said they were treated rudely at least once a week—up from a quarter in 1998.” (Source: Harvard Business Review)


Workplace Bullying Defined


workplace bullyingThe term workplace bullying can take many forms, but the Workplace Bullying Institute defines it as “the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is:

  • Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating

  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done

  • Verbal abuse

 Attributes of workplace bullying involve the following: 

  • Is driven by perpetrators' need to control the targeted individual(s).

  • Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods.

  • Is a set of acts of commission (doing things to others) or omission (withholding resources from others)

  • Requires consequences for the targeted individual

  • Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion.

  • Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies' personal agendas take precedence over work itself.

  • Is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll.


The Cost of Workplace Bullying


Bullying at work carries with it tremendous costs for both victims and companies alike.  For victims, workplace bullying is being attributed to a rise in:

  • Stress

  • Insomnia

  • High blood pressure

  • Digestive problems

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Employees that feel undermined at work are more likely to miss work for health reasons.

Numerous studies indicate the American workers are becoming increasingly disengaged in the workplace, and it is costing U.S. businesses dearly.  Bullying can have negative consequences on the company bottom line including:

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. (Source:


The Road Ahead


The writing on the wall is clear for American businesses.  As more and more attention is given to high profile cases of workplace bullying like the Martin case, legislation appears to be right around the corner that will cause all of us to evaluate our company policies. 

Workplace bullying legislation is being proposed as we speak in the form of the “Healthy Workplace Bill” which will require employers to react with new policies and procedures that will apply to all employees, managers and corporate leadership.

Take a look at your current work environment.  What used to be appropriate will most likely end in litigation.  Workplace bullying will not be tolerated going forward and companies will need to adapt or face severe hits to the bottom line in lost productivity and expensive litigation.

 The Ultimate Guide for Managing Employees Effectively