Workplace Bullying: The Blatant and Subtle Costs to Corporate


The vast majority of the research that can be found on the Internet today reports the human side of the emotional and psychological damage done to the human side of bullying. No one that has an ounce of empathy is going to argue or take the exception of the long term and sometimes tragic repercussions that result from having to endure the daily emotional beatings. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) points out that it is almost uncanny how domestic violence and workplace bullying mirror each other. In 98% of domestic violence the perpetrator is the man while in the workplace the majority of the bullies are male 62% of the time. In both phenomena the bully/abuser tries to dehumanize his/her target which enables the severe mistreatment. When the victim is not viewed as an equal, it is easy to denigrate, belittle and humiliate the victim.

Ron Watkins, President of Mountain Sky Consulting elaborates, “These emotional assaults result in stress-related health issues both psychologically and physically. The emotional harm outlasts the physical injuries in domestic violence. The abused spouse is much more likely to suffer more from the emotional damage than from broken bones which heal relatively quickly than the emotional damage.” “The legacy of emotional and psychological trauma can last a lifetime after infliction. With bullying, there is typically no physical violence, only the emotional,” he continued. Another overlap between domestic violence and bullying is that friends close to the two key players tend to distance themselves from abusive situations. This give them cover to plausibly resist getting involved.

For years, domestic violence cases perplexed police officers and authorities who were asked to step in to the domestic situation but were powerless to intervene because the victim would refuse to press charges. Laws that have now been enacted allow legal authorities to intervene on behalf of the victim. The enactment of laws made the difference. Mr. Watkins believes that it’s evident many companies/institutions initially duck their responsibility to act in spite of the absence of legal recourse.

So why should companies avoid turning a blind eye to the emotional and psychological abuse that is happening in “their own house”? Because, the workplace bully is having a quiet, insidious and sometimes devastating impact on the organization’s bottom line while avoid being noticed by upper management and his/her agility in avoiding accountability. Harrison Psychological Associates located in New York reported the business cost of bullying to employers is more than $180 million in lost time and productivity. The Workplace Bullying Institute Survey 2003 showed that 70% of the employees that were targets by bullies left their position of employment after working within their current employer for an average of 6.7 years. According to the study, a target endures the bullying for an average of 23 months before leaving the hostile environment. Mr. Watkins points out, “This would suggest that targets cannot be accused of being ‘thin-skinned’ since they stay with the company for a long time under conditions most individuals would view as intolerable.” The staggering costs of a high percent of turnover can be calculated in the following areas:

  • Turnover Costs
  • Time spent on the process involved during the exit of the victim
  • Recruitment Costs
  • Training Costs
  • Lost Productivity Costs
  • New Hire Costs
  • Lost Sales and Customer Relations Costs

Each of these costs are made up of as many as eight different factors that go into the calculations of an accurate and justifiable cost for each departing victim. But the actual victim is not the only casualty in the bullying environment. Mr. Watkins is quick to add, “There are those employees who witness the abusive behavior but remain silent for fear of reprisal from the bully, or worse yet, being the bully’s next target. They too begin to look for other opportunities of employment and can be referred to as ‘collateral damage’ as a result of the bully’s unrelenting and mean spirited demeanor. Failure to take action against the bully, the company/organization thus becomes a training ground for the best and brightest employees and future candidates for their competitors as a result.” This leaves the poor and mediocre employee to muddle through the day doing their best to cope with the highly stressed situation and contributing little, if anything, to the company’s viability.

The Emotional and Psychological Cost

Robert Hogan PhD, President of Hogan Assessments in Tulsa, OK told the American Psychological Association annual conference, “The major cause of stress in modern life is bad management because stress has a tremendous negative affect on the immune system and health.” This statement was confirmed by a study conducted by Gary Namie, PhD of The Workplace Bulling Institute when he discussed 33 health symptoms that “targets” experienced during the bullying experience. The following eight most mentioned health symptoms in the study were the following (percentage of respondents):

  • Anxiety, stress, excessive worrying (76%)
  • Loss of concentration (71%)
  • Insomnia and other sleep disorders (71%)
  • Feeling edgy, irritable, easily startled and constantly on guard (60%)
  • Stress headaches (55%)
  • Obsession over details at work (52%)
  • Post-traumatic Stress (PTSD) from deliberate human-inflicted abuse (51%)
  • Recurrent memories, nightmares and flashbacks (49%)

Mr. Watkins goes on to explain that PTSD, best known as a war wound, is actually possible for anyone whose coping mechanisms have been overwhelmed. “For the psychologically abused target the workplace has become a war zone,” he states. “Bullying is often referred to as psychological harassment or violence. What makes it psychological is the bully’s impact on the target’s mental health and sense of well-being. The personalized, focused nature of the assault destabilizes and disassembles the target’s identity, ego strength, and ability to rebound from the assaults. The longer the target is exposed to the stress of bullying, the more severe the psychological impact.”

Resent research at the University of Chicago would indicate that some people are simply mean natured. Researchers compared eight boys ages 16 to 18 with aggressive conduct disorder to a group of eight adolescent boys with no unusual signs of aggression. The aggressive teens, areas of the brain linked with feeling rewarded…became very active when they observed video clips of pain being inflicted on others. But they showed little activity in an area of the brain involved in self-regulation as was seen in the control group.

Impact of Bullies on Morale

Morale may be thought of as a group phenomenon but an individual matter. Group morale depends on the moral of each individual in a group. Mr. Watkins commented that,”High morale in a group means that most people in a group have a good sense of ‘esprit’. It can be the fuel that drives an organization forward or the fuel that feeds the fires of employee discontent, poor performance, and absenteeism.” The Gallup Organization estimates that there are 22 million actively disengaged employees costing the American economy as much as $350 billion dollars per year in lost productivity including absenteeism, illness, and other problems that result when employees are unhappy or constantly stressed at work.

A climate of trust and open communication are essential practices in a company to maintain a heightened sense of morale. “Bullies are notorious for falling short on both qualities. Most bullies tend to be inconsistent in their actions, decision making, and overall treatment of their employees. Management’s credibility is eroded and employee morale is badly shaken when the victim is punished instead of the bully’s reprehensible behavior,” explained Mr. Watkins. “ As a result, employees feel like they are on a ‘rudderless ship’ with no discernible direction.” Because bullies are likely to avoid any open communication with their team members, employees will feel they are the last to know about any situations that affect their job and the organization tends to view them as unimportant. As the bullying events increase it will have a direct impact on the company’s ability to achieve business goals and the employees’ productivity levels will drop significantly.

The high percentage of employee absenteeism is a good indicator of low morale in an organization. This fact became evident in a 2011 survey conducted by CCH (An H/R Compliance Publication Firm) when it was revealed that 70% of last minute absenteeism in a company with low morale was the result of other factors other than personal illness, i.e. “mental health day”, stress related illnesses, depression, and other psychological reasons etc.. The CCH Survey estimated that a large-size company can lose as much as $765,000 annually as a result of absenteeism.

Why Workplace Bullying Happens

Unlike domestic violence 80% of workplace violence and mistreatment is completely legal because the workplace culture holds no one accountable. Mr. Watkins considers the absence of laws contributes to the employers’ ability to ignore bullying even though it has been shown that the legacy of emotional and psychological abuse can be so devastating to the victim and the repercussions can last for years. The rational for some organizations is that no policies or standards of conduct are required since there are no existing laws that require them to address the problem. Even though a company may not encourage or condone the bully’s behavior, their failure to address the problem, in essence, makes workplace bullying legal in spite of the current laws against certain types of harassment. Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel summed it up best when he said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

About Ron Watkins:
Ron Watkins,President of Mountain Sky Consulting, is a Certified Management Consultant and a Carolina Affiliate of the Workplace Bully Institute in Bellingham, Washington. He has degrees in Clinical Psychology  and Behavioral Psychology.  His 25 years as a management consultant has provided him with the insight and experience with addressing the behavioral problems related to Workplace Bullying.  He can be contracted at 828-508-9140 or ron@mskyconsult.com in Asheville, NC.




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