Bullying in the Workplace Persists: Is Coaching a Solution?

Despite the increased attention given to workplace bullying in recent years, current statistics suggest that it remains a widespread problem, with nearly one-third of the nation’s workers having faced some type of on-the-job bullying.

The latest study from the Workplace Bullying Institute (http://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/wbi-2014-us-survey/) indicates that 20 percent of workers surveyed have been the target of workplace bullying at some point during their career. About seven percent said they are currently being subjected to bullying. In the same survey, roughly one in five said they had witnessed bullying of others or know that it has happened to others.

In a second survey, this one from CareerBuilder.com (http://www.careerbuilder.com/share/aboutus/pressreleasesdetail.aspx?sd=9...), 28 percent of workers reported they have felt bullied at work—nearly one in five (19%) of these workers left their jobs because of it.

Perhaps the most damning evidence of bullying’s persistence is seen in research from VitalSmarts, which found that 96 percent of 2,283 Americans surveyed have experienced workplace bullying. For 89 percent of these respondents, the bullying lasted more than a year, while 54 percent said it lasted more than five years.

Of course, it should go without saying, that workplace bullying, when left unchecked, can do significant damage to an employer’s bottom line in the form of lost productivity, low morale and higher turnover.

While difficult to pinpoint the monetary cost of bullying, one report estimates that it can cost the average Fortune 500 company more than $8 million in lost productivity and as much as $16 million in turnover. In addition, legal expenses resulting from bullying-related litigation can easily reach six-figures for each case. Settlements, meanwhile, can exceed $1 million.

Yet, according to recent statistics from the Workplace Bullying Institute, 72 percent of employees say their employers have not done anything to curb bullying in the workplace. Furthermore, there may be a disconnect between what employers and employees consider effective anti-bullying policies.

In one recent survey of human resources professionals, 56 percent said their companies either have some type of workplace bullying policy in place or have plans to enact one. However, a survey of workers found that less than six percent considered their company’s anti-bullying policy or so-called “respect” policies to be adequate or effective deterrents to workplace bullying.

One of the biggest challenges to eradicating workplace bullying is that it is not always easy to identify. The Workplace Bullying Institute defines it as “repeated, health-impairing mistreatment comprised of one or more of the following: 1) verbal abuse; 2) threatening, intimidating conduct; 3) work interference.”

However, acts of bullying are not always so overt. Many workplace bullies are subtle, using micro-aggressions to assert their position of power. These acts may come in the form of taking credit for other people’s work, not allowing others to speak, dismissive body language, or as something as simple as mispronouncing a colleague’s or subordinate’s name.

Due to the breadth of the problem, employers sometimes find it difficult to draft and enact comprehensive anti-bullying policies. It can be tough for a third party, usually someone in HR or an outside arbitrator, to pinpoint the source of bullying, especially when it’s one person’s word against another’s.

That said, it’s up to the employer to foster a safe and encouraging environment. Besides low morale and high turnover, workers may start badmouthing the company, whether because of the ineffectiveness of management or because of how uncomfortable they are in the office, all of which will hurt the overall reputation of the company. Bullying impacts retention, recruitment, morale, productivity – it’s a very invasive issue.

One possible solution to this problem is using coaching to assess work styles. If a few employees regularly appear in complaints, it may be beneficial to have an expert talk to him or her about his or her workplace behavior. The company can view the intervention as an investment in the worker, which shows the company cares not only about that individual, but also the people with whom he or she needs to work.