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Costs of Bullying

The Business Cost of Bullying in the Workplace


By Tamara Parris - Parris, Wolfe & Associates

Bullying in the workplace has become a topic of open discussion over the past several years. This article is a collection of research findings, personal learning’s from a bullying experience, and the opinions and insights of business Presidents/COO’s on the topic. It should provide adequate ammunition to place this serious issue firmly on any organizational agenda.

Costs of Bullying: Large Financial Impact on Business

Bullying in the workplace has a large financial impact on business; Harrison Psychological Associates reports the business costs of bullying to employers where people are being harassed, within a two-year period, is more than $180 million in lost time and productivity. I ran my personal experience of being bullied through “Dana Measure of Financial Cost of Conflict” and it estimated my bullying event, based only on a 6-month period of the several years experience, cost approximately $300,000.00. These numbers show that tolerating this unprofessional boorish behaviour results in a very high financial cost for a company.

The business pays in loses of productivity, turn over, operating cost, and the quality of product/service deliverables. While the bullying incidents are allowed to strengthen in their frequency, the loyalties of your employees weaken. Resulting in businesses loosing their valuable human resource investments; the loyal, trained and seasoned employees the employer nurtured over many years.

Costs of Bullying: High Staff Turn-Over and Retraining Costs

Gary Namie’s study at The Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute (WBTI), (2003 n=1,000) shows 70% of people bullied (targets) leave their current position of employment after working with the employer for an average of 6.7 years. According to Namie’s study, a target endures the bullying for an average of 23-months before they leave the aggressive environment. Namie suggests these targets cannot be referred to as “thin-skinned”, as they stay with the company for a long time under conditions most individuals would view as intolerable.

Costs of Bullying to Your Business:

High Staff Turnover
Retraining Costs
Damage to Employee Health
Absenteeism & Sick Leave
Workplace Violence
Wrongful Termination Suits
Lowered Productivity
Impact on Bottom Line

Over the past decade, more people have become aware of the important role physical and mental well-being play in our capacity to process and engage in our social environments. The health impacts from being subjected to bullying are often visible to employers but overlooked as indicators of stress. A key observation I made during my experience is the bullying behavior emotionally corrodes employees. It strips them of their capacity to interact and deal with the stresses in the workplace. Reviewing the health symptoms from exposure to bulling will help to understanding the behaviors an employer might observe and interpret as stress symptoms, and the psychological distress the person is experiencing.

Costs of Bullying: Damage to Employee(s) Physical and Mental Health

Below is a chart with the Mental GHQ scores and Physical OSI scores for those directly bullied and co-workers witnessing the events from Hoel & Cooper’s 2000 report. The scores clearly show the effects of bullying extend beyond those directly targeted to include the witnesses. The findings show “currently” bullied are well above the need for psychiatric treatment at 5.6%.

Bullying and Health Outcomes
  Not At All Currently
Previously Witness
GHQ Score
2.62 5.6 3.7 2.8 5.45 6.68
OSI Score
33.46 43.7 38.6 33.9 43.26 46.34

Note: GHQ score of 4 and above is the level, which may
imply a need for screening of psychiatric treatment.

Gary Namie suggests that an important defining characteristic of workplace bullying which distinguishes the behavior from other routine office politics is the health endangerment to the individual. In his study he discusses 33-health symptoms targets experience during the bullying experience. Below are the seven most mentioned health symptoms in the study (n% is percentage of respondents):

  • Anxiety, stress, excessive worry (76%)
  • Loss of concentration (71%)
  • Disrupted sleep (71%)
  • Feeling edgy, irritable, easily startled and constantly on guard (hypervigilance) (60%)
  • Stress headaches (55%)
  • Obsession over details at work (52%)
  • Recurrent memories, nightmares and flashbacks (49%)

After reviewing and understanding the GHQ scores and health symptoms list above we can start to have a clearer understanding what targets might be experiencing. We can also understand how a person being bullied for many months would be in a constant state of emotional distress and have their ‘spiritual being’ battered.

Costs of Bullying: Dehumanized and Stressed Workers Unable to Focus

Taking insight from my incident, the best description to explain the bullying experience is someone is ripping you apart and de-segemetizing your “person” little by little. By the end of what you can handle, you find your self to be the shell of who you where and the world seems surreal. After removing myself from the situation, I had to work very hard for a number of years to rebuild my esteem, confidence and cognitive self-image.

Through my research on the topic I have learned two important key factors of bullying 1) there is a personality referred to as a “serial bully”[1] and, 2) bullies recruit others to aid in their objective. These facts mirror my experience; I often interpreted that the bully viewed the situations as a game. The main objective was for them to get the most “team” members on their side. Meanwhile, my co-workers and I struggled to stay focused and make project deadlines.

Costs of Bullying: Company’s Ability to Achieve Business Goals Impacted

Namie’s study, reports that 77% of the time bullies recruit other co-workers, by instilling fear in others. The UNISON 1997 report points out that 73.4% of respondent’s remark that management knew about the behaviour but did not intervene. In addition, Hoel and Cooper report 54.9% of the time groups of workers (3+) are being bullied by one person, however management never reprimands 87% of the bullies. As the bullying events increase and engulf groupings of human resources it will have a direct impact on the company’s ability to achieve business goals and their worker’s productivity levels.

If only 13% of bullies are reprimanded and management knows about the activity then it is clear the bully is not held accountable for the behavior disturbing the team. Then to learn 54.9% of the time 3+ people are being bullied aid in our understanding of why production declines in these environments. In Hoel and Coopers study, they found that when a repressive work culture exists it lowers employee’s self-esteem and productivity is paralyzed (Helge Hoel & Cary L Cooper, 2000).

A study by Proudfoot Consulting in 2006 reveals that the second greatest cause of unproductive time is ‘inadequate supervision’. They report that the top three barriers to efficiency in a company are inadequate supervision, insufficient planning and control, and poor working morale (Proudfoot Productivity Report, 2006)

Costs of Bullying: Management's Credibility Eroded and Worker Morale Destroyed as Victims are Punished Instead of the Bullies Responsible

From the perspective of employees, part of the role of management is to evaluate and understand what is occurring in the work ‘social’ environment and assertively address inappropriate behaviors effecting production, processes and employee morale. An important strength in a leader is the capacity to observe social elements and accurately identify the key motivators of destructive behavior. During one case, I observed that the senior executives who did not participate in the bulling also did not initiate stopping the inappropriate behavior. Instead they focused on the targets and gave them poor performance reviews due to the ‘stress’ related behavior they observed. Maybe the executives did not understand the impact the bullying had on the employee’s performance. Perhaps also they did not have the propensity to realize that the performance outcome they where demanding would not occur until the aggressive boorish behaviors were removed so the staff could focus on their work.

In December 2006, I spoke to 40 Senior Executive respondents (COO/Presidents) in my own blitz of informal interviews in the Greater Toronto Area (Ontario, Canada). From the discussions I learned that these leaders do want employees to disclose that they are being abused in this fashion in their place of work.

  • All stated if you are going to quit anyways you might as well let the top person know why, as they are the only person who could do something to help.
  • All viewed the act of properly reporting the bullying as professional conduct and an indicator of leadership skills.
  • Some mentioned that they would look at relocating the person

These senior leaders believe the only way to make people accountable is to use the company’s anti-harassment policies and bring it to the attention of the most senior person who is willing to intervene. Most of the respondents stated it is better not to take the bully on one-on-one. The target will need a person of higher senior status to diffuse the bully’s tactics and buffer any emotional manipulation. That it is their jobs as a leader to help protect their employees.

Costs of Bullying: Productivity and Profitability Diminished

In a report by the “Canada’s Safety Council”, they state that organizations who manage people properly outperform those who do not by 30 to 40%. This provides another strong point for the removal of unprofessional behaviors that disables your work force and decreases the productivity by a large margin. The Safety Council’s statement that the “development of strong interpersonal skills at all levels is fundamental to good management and a healthy workplace”, is one that should be taken into considered seriously when creating strong productive teams.

This paper outlined how bulling behavior impacts business costs and human resources assets, productivity and turn-over. It clearly supports the business facts that bullying is an expense in your organization that you do not need and it creates others that you do not want - employee turn over, lost productivity, litigation and disability cost. A proactive business decision is to avoid any risk management cost by simply not allowing the bully to harass other employees at work. A smarter financial management decision is to protect these investments and provide your human assets with alternative recourses to resolve these issues at work, other than to leaving your company.

Costs of Bullying: Appendix “A”

Some suggestions to handle the situation:

(1) make sure you keep a log of everything;

a. what has happened and what you have done and where it occurred,

b. include dates, time and people around

(2) keep all communication professional, factual, non-confrontational and problem resolution oriented. This will help you maintain your professionalism and creditability;

a. keep all communication in writing so you have a paper trail in case you or the company needs to take legal action.

b. steer away from any emotionally charged conversations and do not respond to threats or degrading communication, verbal or e-mail. If the bully approaches you to harass you walk away immediately saying nothing.

i. always remember you are in a professional setting and must maintain your creditability at all times.

ii. you will look more adult to the senior executives if you walked away and did not engage in the behaviour.

c. keep everything on file; arm your self with facts and documents.

d. get enough hard evidence that backs up your position of concern, but make sure you do not strengthen the Bully’s position.

(3) report to your supervisor/manager the incidents and request a copy of the companies anti-harassment policy, you have the legal right to it.

a. if they will not give it to you then go to Human Resources or to the next level of management. If the Bully is the next level then go to their supervisor, after you have gone to your immediate supervisor/manager and Human Resources. Do not request it from the Bully.

b. make sure you keep a log of who you spoke to, when and what you requested, and their actions.

c. make a follow up requested by e-mail, stating the time and date of your meeting and the outcome.

(4) try NOT to hold any one-to-one conversations with the Bully in private;

a. have someone else present for meetings, or

b. have them where others can over hear if you can, i.e. keep doors open

c. ask manager/senior to help resolve issue by making a work agreement that the two of you must have a third party present at meetings until the issues are resolved.

(5) if the person you go to does nothing, keep going up the company’s seniority levels until you reach the president or owner.

(6) if no one in the company will resolve the harassing behaviour, seek legal advise with your notes and communication file in hand.

You may need to get a new job but you will leave knowing you did everything to protect yourself and tried to resolve the issue.

Costs of Bullying: Appendix “B”

To accomplish removing the behavior it is important to know what you are looking for and accurately identify it. Gary Namie highlights 5 – points to easily identify bullying.

  • Illegitimate behavior that interferes with other employee's work production and the employer's business interest.
  • Behavior that escalates from one-on-one harassment, followed by limited/non-existent employer response to engulfing an entire work unit in fear and paralyzing productivity.
  • Repeated, health-endangering mistreatment of a person by a cruel perpetrator.
  • Acts of commission and omission, driven by the bully's need to control other people.
  • Initially the bully deciding who is targeted, when, where and how psychological violence will be inflicted.
    § At a later period, others may be coerced to participate in the assaults.

Both Namie’s and Hoel’s research found some of the same bullying tactics. The most used mentions are;

  • Constant and trivial criticism of others
  • Fabrication of errors
  • People’s contributions are not recognized
  • Some individuals are treated differently from the rest of the managed group
  • Shouts at and threatens other workers
  • Marginalizes, belittles, and ignores some employees
  • Isolates and excludes people
  • Humiliates, abuses and embarrasses others
  • Overload certain people with responsibility
  • Gives people trivial tasks or no work
  • Sets unrealistic or changing goals
  • Distorts the actions of others
  • Deny individuals of adequate leave
  • Coerces people they do not want around into leaving job

Costs of Bullying: References:

  1. The Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute (WBTI), 2003 Report on Abusive Workplaces; by Gary Namie, Ph.D.; October, 2003.
  2. UMIST - Destructive Conflict and Bullying at Work, Sponsored by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation (BOHRF); By Helge Hoel & Cary L Cooper; Manchester School of Management; April 2000.
  3. Harrison Psychological Associates; Workplace bullying's high cost: $180M in lost time, productivity; Orlando Business Journal - March 15, 2002 by Liz Urbanski Farrell; March 2002
  4. UNISON (1997) Bullying at work: Bullying survey report. London; by UNISON.; 1997
  5. Bullying at work: Epidemiological findings in private and public organisations. European Joumal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5, 185–201.; by Einarsen, S. Skogstad, A.; 1996
  6. The incidence of workplace bullying. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 7, 249–255.; by Rayner, C.; 1997
  7. Bullying in the Workplace; by Canada’s Safety Council; September 2000;
  8. Proudfoot Productivity Report, An international study of company-level productivity; by Proudfoot Consulting; 2006
  9. Workplace bullying's high cost: $180M in lost time, productivity; Orlando Business Journal - March 15, 2002 by Liz Urbanski Farrell; March 20002;
  10. Dana Measure of Financial Cost of Conflict; by Dan Dana 2007;


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