When we think about bullying today, we think about kids in classrooms, playgrounds and on the streets being picked on and harassed. We think about the type of violence we see on-screen, the “big kids” versus the geeks, the outcasts, the “losers”. And even though that’s all we learn to associate with bullying, it doesn’t stop there.
It doesn’t stop after your teen years, nor does it stop in the playground. As nearly half of the working population has witnessed, this type of violence can occur even at your workplace. Though considered a professional setting, some interactions that take place here are legitimate occupational safety (OHS) concerns. Companies are finding that the impacts of workplace bullying stretch farther than just the victim’s well being, they pose a financial strain on organizations as well. A strain that, in the corporate world, is simply not affordable. What starts off as a dwindling employee morale in the workplace soon becomes a monetary cost that the employer must deal with. So, how do things get out of hand that easily?
Poor Occupational Safety Hurts an Employers Bottom-Line
Certain OHS costs such as reduced employee productivity and lost time are tough to measure in the short term, but these are key factors that lead up to high employee turnover rates. Bullying in any form will decrease work safety for those individuals and will inevitably take a toll on employee productivity – the time employees would usually spend producing quality work, will instead be wasted by constant distractions and feelings of anxiety. As humans, we naturally feel a sudden drop in motivation if we lose our sense of belonging in a certain place and among certain people. And if that place is where we spend the majority of our time, the impact it can have on our work is amplified. Bill Sutton from Stanford University suggests that organizations can see a 40% decline in productivity as a result of bullying. This type of behaviour can cause employee efforts to plummet due to their lack of motivation.
Warning Signs of Bullying affecting Occupational Safety in the Workplace
If the bullying continues and the employee is already showing signs of reduced productivity, it is likely that he/she will simply take more hours off their day at work. Anything to be away from a feared environment and from negative energy. Approximately 18.9 million working days are lost each year in the United Kingdom as a result of workplace bullying. From a profit perspective, approximately 10% of a company’s profits are lost annually to workplace bullying. Employees calling in sick when they’re not or taking prolonged holidays are some of the many lengths stressed employees will go to, to be away from bullying. Now that we’ve started discussing some of the signs and effects of workplace bullying, you’ll find that they are extremely similar to what bullied students go through as well (skipping class, not doing homework, poor efforts in classwork); except, workplace bullying comes with more financial baggage.
As matters progress, prolonged stress leaves won’t seem to be enough. Employees will eventually resign from their jobs feeling distressed and unhappy with their environment. noworkplacebullies.com have released a report stating that up to 30% of bullied employees will resign from their jobs. While this number is significant, what is equally worrisome are the 20% of employees who witness bullying and also leave their jobs. By the time organizations reach this point, the view onwards looks like more of a downward spiral. Organization executives will now be able to see costs rising on a short term basis. Money must now be put into recruitment, hiring and training of employee replacements.
Serious cases of workplace bullying can turn into legal proceedings where companies must compensate employees for damages to physical or mental health, lost wages and health insurance costs. In these cases, employers are found responsible for the bullying that takes place within their companies. Some organizations may fail to acknowledge an employee’s call for help and some may neglect to address inappropriate behaviour at all. Of course, many cases arise where upper management employees and executives are found to be bullies themselves.
Some bullied employees may choose not to leave the organization, in which case employers may be required to pay for any counseling or rehabilitation services that the employee needs. Employees are encouraged to seek counseling in order to make amends to emotional damages that bullying has caused. More often than not, workplace bullies themselves have counseling services that are paid for by the company. Anger management or leadership training, team-building activities and sensitivity training are some examples of counseling the bully must partake in. This will allow them to behave appropriately with their coworkers in future situations.
As a result of employees resigning, workplace morale is at a low point at this time. The bullied employee and others who have witnessed poor workplace behaviour will “talk”. They may not talk within the organization but they will talk outside of it. A company’s reputation can take a hit if there is negative feedback coming from employees. And while it may seem like a stretch to correlate company sales to workplace bullying, the idea can’t be ruled out completely. Several organizations depend on high public engagement and public image to develop relationships with customers and create a brand that sells to people’s emotions. If this relationship is tainted by complaints on workplace behaviour and poor work ethic, it is likely that customers will abandon the brand and what it stands for.
Conflict will occur everyday in the workplace, however, it boils down to employers being aware of the interactions that take place in their organizations. More importantly, it involves employers building a work environment that conducive to healthy conflict and rational problem solving. Several companies take time to bring employees together on various activities unrelated to work – these are opportunities for employees to gain respect for one another and develop sustainable relationships within the workplace.
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