Workplace Bullying: Costly Behaviors, Difficult Choices
I just love it when workplace bullying issues are discussed from the POV of the bottom line. It’s so logical and linear. Here is a statement from a recent article on the Motley Fool website.
“Imagine how much better our workplaces would be if bullying was not tolerated? If bullies were given specific and stern feedback about their behavior one time and then fired if they didn’t improve? If employees knew they could report bullying without consequences or retaliation, and that once they did, a thorough investigation would take place? According to WBI research, bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal harassment, yet it’s a silent epidemic in corporate America.”
Bullying Costs—the Illogical Approach
It’s so logical and reasonable. Workplace bullying costs millions and millions of dollars each year in lost productivity, turnover, medical fees, absenteeism, and time spent investigating complaints, among other things. Ah, but dealing with bullying and abrasive behaviors in the workplace is anything but logical. Sometimes the person who is bullying others is of great value—they bring in the money, they have all the good relationships, or they may be the founder, as in the case below.
I had a long conversation today with a client of mine who is dealing with a terrible bullying situation at work. Unfortunately the perpetrator is the president and founder, and he has a character disorder that makes him terribly anxious and his aggression is spread far and wide. Since he’s not going to be fired, at least not yet, then we spend our time dealing with the problem, strategizing stop-gap interventions, and worrying about the possible costs to the organization from employee complaints and also the moral implications of allowing the aggressive behavior to continue. As the costs mount, the team is looking at ways to bring the Board (it’s a nonprofit) in on the problem with their sights on removing the president.
The Moral Conundrum
Another good point here is that the other administrators do feel that the bullying behavior is immoral and their employees should not be suffering from it. They feel obliged to take action and they are right to do so. Our stop gap measures have reduced the frequency and intensity of the bullying, but it’s still there and they want it to stop.
Blending the Moral and Economic
In the end my clients will have to make a decision about the value of the president and the costs to the organization in all its forms, including human capital. Their crisis is one that anyone who cares about their employees must face. Do we follow the guidelines outlined by the Motley Fools: Investigation, Feedback, Guidelines for appropriate behavior and then, if not followed, dismissal? Do we have the strength to fire someone who delivers on the bottom line? Do we have the courage to stand up to such outrageous behavior and champion our employees? When will human capital outweigh the bottom line? And, when will we learn that aggressive behavior that cannot be amended is more costly to a company than any revenues they provide?
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I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts.
I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.