Bullies Poison the Workplace

Discussion
Jul 10, 2007

By George Anderson

For those who thought they left bullies behind on the playgrounds of their youth, think again. According to studies, bullying is fairly common and, in fact, is so much a part of the American workplace culture that nine percent do not even identify the behavior for what it is.

“Workers suffering on the job and thinking they’re ‘going crazy’ learn that the phenomenon has a name, what it looks like, that it happens to many workers, and potentially, what they might do about it,” said Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico and one of the authors of Burned by Bullying in the American Workplace: Prevalence, Perception, Degree and Impact. The study will be published in the September issue of the Journal of Management Studies.

Other workplace studies have come to similar conclusions. A survey of 100 human resource professionals by Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that a third said they had either experienced or witnessed bullying.

“Statistically, bullying is far more prevalent than sexual harassment, workplace violence or racial discrimination and the long-term costs to the organization are significant, yet bullying remains one of the most overlooked problems by management and the courts,” John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, told the Management-Issues website.

The costs, according to Mr. Challenger, are steep. “Each company that loses an employee due to a workplace bully has to replace that person. The cost of replacement can be as high as 150 per cent of the former worker’s salary, when recruiting, training, and lost productivity costs are a taken into account,” he said.

Bullying, as defined by the Workplace Bullying Institute, usually presents itself in three ways, including “verbal abuse, threatening, humiliating or offensive behavior/actions, and work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done.”

Ultimately, Gary Kaplan, president of Gary Kaplan & Associates, told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, the cure for bullying is straightforward.

“If management takes a hard stand that they will not tolerate that form of behavior, ultimately that behavior will not happen in that environment,” he said. “It all leads to one place, that’s with the CEO of the organization, the stand they take on social and moral issues.”

Discussion Questions: Have you ever witnessed workplace bullying? How common is bullying in retail workplace environments? What should be done to address the issue?

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9 Comments on "Bullies Poison the Workplace"


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Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
14 years 10 months ago
How times have changed in these respects. The title of a business book “Winning Through Intimidation” by Robert J. Ringer comes to mind. While he didn’t recommend some of the exact types of behavior that has been described, his principles for success were to gain the upper hand through intimidating your opponent in negotiations. I think that probably most of us have witnessed or been subject to bullying of some sort in our careers. I had a former boss that delighted in scaring his employees into doing exactly what he wanted, especially the new ones. After a few of his temper tantrums and outbursts, you either did what he wanted or found another job because it was unbearable to work under his conditions. He would put on quite a show with the red face, screaming swear words and slamming or throwing things. The first time you experienced it, it would scare you half to death, and it was still pretty bad watching him unleash it on someone else. In spite of this, he was a… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

Yes I have witnessed workplace bullying and yes it is very common. Like most workplace environment issues, it starts from the top on down. Bullies exist because those being bullied let them exist. If there is a bully at work, well I just have one more good reason to show up. If anyone needs help on bully busting give me call. If you want to handle it yourself, there are plenty of good books available on how to deal with bullies and jerks.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 10 months ago

Workplace bullying is very real. When it occurs, it truly is horrible for those that have to deal with it. More often than not, I’ve seen it occur from superiors to their subordinates who either don’t have the personality to fight back or feel that they will lose their job for doing so.

Like David, I experienced a situation where a VP had literally destroyed her team. I was brought in to damage control and lasted 5 months before I was thrown out due to resistance to my more “gentle and human” approach. Years before, I also split ways with a company due to a tyrannical CEO that was honestly causing psychological damage to the young account executives that he was browbeating…it was awful to witness.

Like everything else, it’s all about people and what we as humans believe is right and wrong. However, it’s also what we do in response to it…and what and who we are willing to stand up for. Like anything else, bad behavior only occurs if it’s tolerated!

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
14 years 10 months ago

Bullying is a monster of those who are mean,
As to its being hated, needs not to be seen;
Yet seen too often, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

The bully in an emergency thinks with his legs,
Never rising higher than society’s lower dregs,
Continually intimidating others without any care,
Until put down by those who respect what’s fair.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
14 years 10 months ago

Workplace bullying between managers and subordinates is common in the retail environment. I chalk it up to lack of ability or capacity to get staff to do what you want. There is always a push to promote great associates into management positions but these ‘star associates’ don’t really have any managerial skills, so they turn to aggressive and bullying behavior to get what they want done. Training and ongoing feedback is critical in creating a harmonized workplace. It is also important that companies have strict policies on bullying and conflict resolution and associates need to be aware of such policies.

David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 10 months ago
Bullying in the workplace hurts companies, brands, morale, sales, profits, and people. This is actually a topic that we have discussed in my “coffee talk” groups for small and medium sized businesses, because oddly enough, this is where bullying seems to occur even more often than in larger corporations. My top-management clients that own the companies often acknowledge that he or she is the last to know this is taking place in the company. I know of a situation in a small company where a new middle level manager was bullying employees so severely that 21 people, many with over five or ten years of employment in the company, each worked up the nerve to write individual letters to top management. Unfortunately, top management remained unapproachable for a time because top management thought so highly of the mid-level manager because she made such a positive impression when meeting with top management. Of course it was only a matter of time until the bully manager eventually got caught up in her own residue and then she… Read more »
David Zahn
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

In terms of having I ever witnessed workplace bullying, the answer is absolutely YES. One of my first jobs as a teenager was for a local mall based restaurant that had a manager that believed “rule by intimidation” was the best approach. No one could please him and no one was able to do a satisfactory job to merit anything but criticism.

Years later, I worked for an executive that was incapable of speaking with subordinates without pounding his fist on his desk, getting red in the face, and shouting four letter words at least once or twice a day. In both instances, the level of “desperation” felt by employees around “needing this job” is what kept them working. Had the circumstances or situations been different, they would have been sprinting for the door.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 10 months ago

The most vulnerable are the undocumented. Bullies sometimes feel they can get away with limitless terrorizing of the undocumented. People who aren’t legally in this country, or who are working illegally, are often afraid of complaining to anyone in authority. They have no union, they can’t go to the police, and they’re afraid of blackmail.

Carrie Clark
Guest
Carrie Clark
14 years 10 months ago

Until we pass laws to recognize, correct, and prohibit workplace bullying, it will continue to destroy the American workforce from the top down and from the bottom up. Shame on us and bully for America. Other countries are doing much better.

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