Bullies blight US workplaces

Jul 05 2007 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Bullying continues to cast a shadow of American workplaces, with three out of 10 HR executives admitting that they have seen an employee quit because of the way they have been treated.

A survey of 100 HR professionals by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas also revealed that a third of executives have witnessed or experienced workplace 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," said John Gray, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"Yet bullying remains one of the most overlooked problems by management and the courts," he added.

Just how big a problem has been confirmed by research to be published in the September issue of the Journal of Management Studies which suggests that the culture of many American workplaces actively triggers, encourages and even rewards bullying.

The study, led by Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, compared data for the U.S. and Scandinavia and found that what it terms "persistent workplace negativity" is between 20 percent to 50 percent higher for U.S. workers than for their Scandinavian counterparts.

Yet only one in 10 of Americans were aware that the behaviour they experienced constituted bullying, leading the researchers to conclude that bullying behaviour is ingrained in the culture of the U.S. workplace.

Companies stress market processes, individualism, and the importance of managers over workers, all of which discourages collaborative efforts and enables powerful individuals in organizations to bully others without recrimination.

While there are no readily available statistics on the amount of staff turnover that is related to bullying, the numbers are undoubtedly significant. Robert Sutton in his book, The No Asshole Rule, cites one company that estimated losses of $160,000 annually in turnover, overtime and dealing with problems caused by just one star sales performer's bad temper and insulting behavior.

Meanwhile, figures from the Employment Law Alliance suggest that almost half of Americans have witnessed verbal and physical abuse at work.

On a more positive note, however, the Challenger, Gray & Christmas study found that in eight out of 10 cases in which an employee left, the individual responsible for the bullying faced disciplinary action

"It is in a company's best interest to identify bullies and coach them to change their ways or, failing that, remove them," John Challenger said.

"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."