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The High Cost of Workplace Bullying

February 18th, 2014 Comments off

Mobbing at workAs the alleged bullying of Miami Dolphins’ Jonathan Martin continues to make headlines, workplace bullying is once again in the spotlight. Martin’s story, however, is just the most recent of some high profile workplace bullying stories.

Late last year, staff members began coming forward with stories of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s bullying behavior, and it wasn’t so long ago that allegations emerged of bullying against Ann Curry at the ‘Today’ show.

Though we’d like to believe that stories like Martin’s, Christie’s and Curry’s are outliars, the truth is, workplace bullying is not all that uncommon.  A 2012 CareerBuilder survey found that more than one third (35 percent) of workers have felt bullied in the workplace.

And yet, people are still hesitant to talk about it: More than half of workers don’t confront their bullies, and only about a quarter report incidents of workplace bullying. Perhaps the most disheartening finding of all: According to the study, the biggest offenders of workplace bullying are often bosses.

What is Workplace Bullying, Anyway?

Though it’s often up for debate what defines workplace bullying, the Workplace Bullying Institute defines it as “the repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons” and usually appears in the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse.
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.
  • Work interference – sabotage – which prevents work from getting done.

More specific examples come from the aforementioned CareerBuilder study, when participants gave the following ways in which they felt bullied at work:

  • Falsely accused of mistakes.
  • Ignored.
  • Held up to different standards than other workers.
  • Constantly criticized.
  • Yelled at by boss in front of co-workers.
  • Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings.
  • Gossiped about.
  • Someone stole credit for my work.
  • Purposely excluded from projects or meetings.
  • Picked on for personal attributes.

The High Cost of Workplace Bullying

Not only can workplace bullying negatively affect the victims (such incidents can cause stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, digestive problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, among other symptoms), but it can also take a toll on the entire company. Consider some of the negative business consequences of workplace bullying:

  • 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.

Given both the personal and professional ramifications, it is in the best interest of the employer to keep an eye out for workplace bullying – whether you see it or not, as sometimes the signs are very subtle. Create a zero tolerance policy at your organization, and encourage your employees to come forward if they experience bullying. Remember, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Is Workplace Bullying Becoming a Bigger Problem?

September 18th, 2012 Comments off

Workplace bullyingAs we’ve discussed before, workplace bullying isn’t a new issue, and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. In fact, a recent CareerBuilder survey conducted by Harris Interactive© among more than 3,800 workers nationwide reveals the problem not only isn’t going away — it’s becoming more common.

Thirty-five percent of workers said they have felt bullied at work, up from 27 percent last year. This could mean more workers are feeling bullied – or it could mean more employees are coming forward and vocalizing their situation. The effects of workplace bullying go beyond simply hurt feelings or a bruised ego: 16 percent of workers who say they have felt bullied said they’ve suffered health-related problems as a result, and 17 percent went so far as to quit their jobs to escape the situation.

The Workplace Bullying Institute, which developed back in 1997 to help workers deal with the trauma of workplace bullying, defines bullying as “a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved. Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence and, because it is violence and abusive, emotional harm frequently results.”

Bullying affects morale, motivation, work performance and productivity, and can also lead to higher absenteeism, health care costs and turnover — not to mention the psychological toll it takes on your employees.

The WBI also points out that bullying can take three main forms:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done

Since bullying comes in so many forms, it’s often difficult to define bullying by one specific action. When asked to describe how they were bullied, though, workers most often pointed to the following examples:

  • Falsely accused of mistakes – 42 percent
  • Ignored – 39 percent
  • Used different standards/policies toward me than other workers – 36 percent
  • Constantly criticized – 33 percent
  • Someone didn’t perform certain duties, which negatively impacted my work – 31 percent
  • Yelled at by boss in front of co-workers – 28 percent
  • Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings – 24 percent
  • Gossiped about – 26 percent
  • Someone stole credit for my work – 19 percent
  • Purposely excluded from projects or meetings – 18 percent
  • Picked on for personal attributes – 15 percent
How to deal with workplace bullying

Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, points out that although workers may define or explain their bullying experiences differently, a common theme usually persists:

 “How workers define bullying can vary considerably, but it is often tied to patterns of unfair treatment. Bullying can have a significant impact on both individual and company performance. It’s important to cite specific incidents when addressing the situation with the bully or a company authority and keep focused on finding a resolution.”

 

Silent (near) majority

CareerBuilder’s study found that workplace bullying is often kept in the dark: More than half of workers (51 percent) don’t confront their bullies, and the majority of incidents end up going unreported. As it turns out, who the perpetrator is in age or rank at the office may be a major reason for this:

  • Most workers who said they’d felt bullied said their their boss (48 percent) or co-workers (45 percent) were responsible. Thirty-one percent said they had been picked on by customers, and 26 percent pointed to someone higher up in the company who wasn’t their boss.
  • More than half (54 percent) of bullied workers said someone older than them was the bully. Twenty-nine percent said their bully was younger.
Confronting the bully

Although more than half of workers who are bullied never confront the situation, 49 percent do take action. Of those who said they were bullied and did something about it, 50 percent said the bullying stopped afterwards, while 11 percent said it actually got worse and 38 percent said the bullying didn’t change at all.

How bullying is treated at work can have a lot to do with whether employees feel empowered to report a problem in the future. 

Twenty-seven percent percent of workers who felt bullied reported it to their human resources department. Of these workers, 43 percent said action was taken after they reported the situation, but the majority (57 percent) said nothing was done. Employees can and will draw conclusions about acceptable or encouraged workplace behavior from the way they observe your company treating its own employees. So the biggest question is, how does your organization handle bullying — if at all?

Your responsibility as an employer

Do you have a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, or do you choose to ignore the issue and deal with it if and when it happens (and assuming you even hear about it)? How seriously your company views bullying may weigh heavily on not only on how employees handle bullying when it occurs, but also on how often it occurs in the first place.

Consider passing the following three points of action on to your employees and leaders to make it known that your company doesn’t tolerate bullying, help empower employees to take action if they’re bullied, and increase awareness company-wide of what is and isn’t appropriate work behavior.

1. Keep record of all incidents of bullying, documenting places, times, what happened and who was present.

2. Consider talking to the bully, providing examples of how you felt treated unfairly. Chances are the bully may not be aware that he or she is making you feel this way.

3. Always focus on resolution. When sharing examples with the bully or a company authority, center the discussions around how to make the working situation better or how things could be handled differently.

What kinds of steps has your organization taken to prevent workplace bullying or encourage awareness of the problem? Does you have a verbal and written anti-bullying policy?

Looking Back: CareerBuilder’s Top 10 Posts of 2011

December 29th, 2011 Comments off

Yesterday we released our 2012 Job Forecast, including some of our employment predictions for the New Year. But, before we jump into the future, let’s take a look back at the most read posts of 2011:

2011_Review_The_Hiring_Site#1 – Workplace Bullying and Your Employees: What Can You Do?
Published April 20, 2011 by Amy Chulik, contributing editor for The Hiring Site 

A newly released CareerBuilder survey reveals that workplace bullying is still happening. We share 6 tips to help your company work toward a bully-free workplace.

#2 – Search and Review Candidates – Faster and More Efficiently with ResumeFlip
Published July 14, 2011 by Stephanie Gaspary, editorial director for The Hiring Site

Easily flip from one resume to the next with CareerBuilder’s enhanced Resume Database. You’ll view full, complete resumes – the way candidates want you to see them – instead of just generic-looking resume summaries.

#3 – 10 Global HR Trends for 2011 and How to Manage Them
Published March 17, 2011 by Amy Chulik, contributing editor for The Hiring Site

Howard Wallack, the Director of Global Member Programs for SHRM, discussed 10 global HR labor trends for 2011 at HRPA 2011 and how companies can best manage them.

#4 – Emerging Media: The Best Opportunities You Aren’t Taking Advantage Of
Published August 31, 2011 by Andrew Streiter, VP of sales at CareerBuilder

As job seeker behavior changes, so too does your recruitment strategy. Learn how today’s recruitment experts use emerging media to find the best talent.

#5 – Recruiting for Tomorrow Today: 4 Key Reasons You Need a Talent Pipeline
Published March 17, 2011 by John Smith, SVP of sales at CareerBuilder

If you want to remain competitive in today’s market, you can no longer rely on “business as usual” when it comes to your recruitment efforts.

#6 –4 Things Great Companies Do To Develop Their Leaders
Published January 26, 2011 by Mary Lorenz, contributing editor for The Hiring Site

What turns ordinary employees into superior leaders? Learn the four essential characteristics the top 20 best companies for leadership share.

#7 – The Pros and Cons of Behavioral Interviewing
Published March 2, 2011 by Jennifer Way, guest contributor for The Hiring Site

Behavioral interviews are one of the biggest leaps forward in recruitment, but that doesn’t erase the responsibilities that come along with this type of interview.

#8 – How Can Job Seekers Get Résumés Out of Your Trash and Into Your Heart?
Published September 15, 2011 by Amy Chulik, contributing editor for The Hiring Site

An overview of your most agonizing résumé errors here. After all, by letting job seekers know what you don’t want, you are also shedding light on what you do want.

#9 – A Recruitment Strategy Without Data Isn’t A Strategy At All
Published May 5, 2011 by Jason Lovelace, VP of sales at CareerBuilder

Gone are the days when employers could simply put an ad in the local paper in hopes people apply. Today recruitment requires strategy, the key to which is data.

#10 – Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted To… Work?
Published January 4, 2011 by Amy Chulik, contributing editor for The Hiring Site

A new CareerBuilder study examines signs of work addiction and explores ways workers can find a happy medium between work and personal time as we dive into 2011.

So there you have it – 2011 in review. Looking forward, what would you like our writers to focus on for 2011?

Workplace Bullying and Your Employees: What Can You Do?

April 20th, 2011 Comments off

Workplace BullyingWorkplace bullying has been getting a lot more attention in the media lately after some high-profile bullying cases have come to light — but the issue is unfortunately not a new one. After all, the Workplace Bullying Institute has been around since the early 1900s for a reason, and many states have been in the process of trying to pass legislation against workplace bullying since 2003 (none yet with any success). But for as long as workplace bullying has been happening, it doesn’t appear to be stopping. A just-released CareerBuilder survey among 5,671 U.S. workers reveals that more than one in four (27 percent) workers have felt bullied in the workplace, with the majority neither confronting nor reporting the bully.

The most common bully? The boss.

According to survey results, 14 percent of workers felt bullied by their immediate supervisor, while 11 percent felt bullied by a co-worker.  Seven percent said the bully was not their boss but someone else higher up in the organization, while another 7 percent said the bully was their customer.

Bullying reports by gender and age

  • Comparing genders and age groups, the segments that were more likely than others to report feeling bullied were women, workers ages 55 or older (29 percent), and workers age 24 or younger (29 percent).
  • Women reported a higher incidence of being treated unfairly at the office.  One-third (34 percent) of women said they have felt bullied in the workplace, compared to 22 percent of men. Of course, this doesn’t mean fewer men are bullied, necessarily — just that fewer men report it. And, according to research by organizational behavior and leadership expert Denise Salin, women are more likely than men to self-label as a target of bullying.
  • Workers ages 35 to 44 were the least likely to report feeling bullied, with only one in four doing so.

Bullying can come in a variety of forms, and what one of us considers crossing the line might make another cringe or blush, and a third person accept as simply “part of the job.”  When asked to describe how they were bullied, workers pointed to the following examples:

  • My comments were dismissed or not acknowledged (43 percent).
  • I was falsely accused of mistakes I didn’t make (40 percent).
  • I was harshly criticized (38 percent).
  • I was forced into doing work that really wasn’t my job (38 percent).
  • Different standards and policies were used for me than other workers (37 percent).
  • I was given mean looks (31 percent).
  • Others gossiped about me (27 percent).
  • My boss yelled at me in front of other co-workers (24 percent).
  • Belittling comments were made about my work during meetings (23 percent).
  • Someone else stole credit for my work (21 percent).

Since bullying comes in so many forms, it’s often difficult to define bullying by one specific action. The Workplace Bullying Institute, however, defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  1. Verbal abuse.
  2. Offensive conduct/behaviors that are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating.
  3. Work interference, i.e. sabotage, that prevents work from being done.

Salin describes bullying in the workplace as a “form of negative interaction that can express itself in many ways, ranging from verbal aggression and excessive criticism or monitoring of work to social isolation or silent treatment.” It’s sometimes an accumulation of many minor acts, adding up to a pattern of maltreatment. The person on the receiving end of the bullying feels unable to defend him or herself successfully.

What are companies doing to combat this workplace bullying?

Twenty-eight percent of workers who were bullied brought the situation to a higher authority by reporting the bully to their Human Resources department. While 38 percent of these workers stated that measures were taken to investigate and resolve the situation, the majority of workers (62 percent) said no action was taken.

Of those who didn’t report the bully at all, one in five (21 percent) said it was because they feared the bullying would escalate. And with so few companies taking action on bullying complaints, reporting the incident may be an increasingly unattractive option to employees, because not only will they have to worry about the bullying getting worse, they will also have to fear making the culprit aware that his or her actions will not be disciplined by the company, essentially giving the person a green light to continue the bullying behavior.

Various sources from Salin’s research on workplace bullying also show that bullying seems to be prevalent in organizations that support, accept or allow such behavior, or where employees feel that they can “get away with it” or where it is accepted as part of a “tough” climate.” Even worse, new employees and managers can become socialized into treating bullying as a normal feature of working life.

The cost to your employees – and your business

Bullying is not only harmful for the employees experiencing it, but it also has a significant impact on the workplace environment as a whole. Bullying affects morale, motivation, work performance and productivity, and can also lead to higher absenteeism, health care costs and turnover — not to mention the psychological toll it takes on your employees. Some employers have realized the importance of taking steps to prevent bullying or make employees aware that they have a strict no-tolerance bullying policy, not only for the obvious reason of protecting their valued employees, but also because it’s good for business. Many employers, however, only seem to deal with the issue after it happens — if they deal with it at all.

Does your organization thrive on competition to the point of intimidation? Do you look the other way when an employee’s behavior seems to upset another employee? Or do you cultivate a culture of respect? While organizations can’t necessarily be blamed for bullying behavior, employees can certainly draw conclusions about acceptable or encouraged workplace behavior from the way they observe their organization treat its own employees and handle conflict.

By taking a soft stance on bullying, employees will view your workplace as tolerant of the practice, and will be less likely to come forward for help when they become a victim. What can you do to better protect your employees?

Six steps toward a bully-free workplace

In an article she wrote for the Scandinavian Journal of Management, Salin references many tips that various experts have found to be effective in helping to prevent or lessen the occurrence of workplace bullying.

Consider the following 6 steps:

  1. Foster a supportive culture, and encourage open communication with both peers and leaders.
  2. Introduce a specific, zero-tolerance anti-bullying policy to employees to increase general awareness of appropriate work behavior. The content of the document is very important; simply having one is not enough. It should cover the definition of what is regarded as bullying and what is not, as well as a statement of consequences of breaching your organization’s standards. It should also clarify who to report to, list specific contact persons and clearly explain the procedure for making and investigating informal and formal complaints.
  3. Incorporate staff from all levels of your organization to help develop your policy, and increase awareness and acceptance of it throughout the organization — having a written policy is not enough. Policies are not just for the potential victim of workplace bullying, but are also helpful for managers, to give them advice and guidelines about how to deal with bullying. In turn, having a policy may make managers more willing and competent to react appropriately to a situation.
  4. Include skills to identify and deal with bullying during management training; any action taken to increase leader competence in dealing with bullying is of utmost importance.
  5. Spread knowledge of both the definition of workplace bullying and your organization’s policy at all levels, so that situations that could escalate into bullying can be quickly identified (and hopefully dealt with before the level of intensity increases). Increasing awareness may also encourage more employees to feel empowered to combat bullying by refusing to take part or refusing to silently watch it happen.
  6. Increase the perceived cost to the perpetrator in order to deter potential bullies from taking action by making it clear that there will be serious consequences.

These are some steps your organization may choose to take to help curb bullying in the workplace — but I’d like to hear from all of you. What is your organization’s stance on workplace bullying, and what measures have you taken to prevent it? How have you dealt with bullying situations that have arisen?