Its very easy to turn a blind eye to bullying in the workplace. Conflicts are a normal part of human interactions. Why the fuss?
The reason is because bullying isn't a conflict between two people. A conflict assumes that two people are arguing over something and that both sides, presumably, have good cause to argue their case.
Bullying, on the other hand, isn't a conflict. It is the intentional use of aggression to gain power over another person. Its one sided aggression. To gain influence and power, the bully does not use the power of persuasion and instead gets their way through the force of fear. This fear is costly. The Australian government estimates that bullying costs the country between $6 and $36 billion in lost productivity every year.
One of the most common forms of bullying is making denigrating comments about someone. These comments are made to dehumanize and stigmatize the victim. This justifies further mistreatment of the victim and makes them more vulnerable to future attacks. Especially if no one steps in to make it clear denigrating comments are not tolerated in the organization.
Once someone is stigmatized, the bully can start excluding them and this starts a vicious cycle of exclusion and intentional withholding of resources the victimized employee needs to do their job.
The reason this should matter to businesses is because most organizations cant afford to have an employee excluded. Not only is decision making impaired when the opinions of one of the employees are dismissed out of hand, the work of a victim of bullying is often intentionally sabotaged. Why any company would tolerate that sort of behavior or worse, reward it, is a mystery.
Companies that tolerate bullying experience: reduced ability to solve problems, high employee turnover, and a loss of productivity. They may also find themselves targets of lawsuits as victimized employees sue them for failing to provide a safe work environment. It turns out that the stress of being bullied can cause stress related health problems that are quite costly to treat and workers are rightly owed compensation for those expenses.
So what can be done? First, we, as a society need to change our understanding of what bullying is, why it happens and how to get it to stop. We need to stop thinking of bullying as inevitable because it isnt. Learning how to defend against bullying is a skill that can be taught and we need to start teaching it.
The Cost and Liabilities of Bullying
This guest post is by Jennifer Hancock, author of The Bully Vaccine.
P.S. I recommend you check out her 6 credit online program on Workplace Bullying for HR Professionals.