September 10, 2007

Bully for you! (But be prepared for the costs)

In the movie The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep is the boss from an especially glamorous circle of hell, but while the flick is fiction, Ms. Streep’s prima donna depiction is all too often reality in the U.S. workplace.

The tolerance of workplace bullies, however, is being questioned because the costs associated with bullying could well outweigh any perceived benefits.

Tony Fasulo, a managing partner at Acclaim Ability Management, which manages worker compensation and disability cases for employers, said his company tracked the costs associated with bullying for one large employer and found it easily spent over $1 million in a two-year period to cover short-term disability costs related to bullying.

And that’s just one area where the tab can add up. There’s also the cost of high turnover and lost productivity, as well as increased health-care and recruitment expenses.

“Bullies are often seen as stars, but companies have to question other costs and whether the costs outweigh the gains that the person is bringing in,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of executive recruiter Challenger Gray & Christmas.

Few people question that bullying runs rampant in the American workplace. According to a nationwide poll by the Employment Law Alliance, 44% of American workers report they have toiled for an abusive supervisor or employer. And more than half of workers say they have been the victim of (or heard about) supervisors or employers behaving abusively. The bad behavior ranged from yelling at subordinates or rudely interrupting them to making sarcastic jokes or teasing remarks to giving them dirty looks or ignoring them as if they were invisible.

The problem is compounded by a lack of management training, said Mr. Challenger. “People who are high performers are put into management roles, but their ability to manage subordinates is questionable,” he said, “and instead of explaining why things need to be done, they tend to order and push people around with no explanation.”

While the perception of bullying may depend on an individual’s sensitivity, Gary Namie, director of a Bellingham, Wash., organization called the Workplace Bullying Institute, defines it as repeated, health-harming verbal abuse; threatening, humiliating or offensive behavior; and interference, including sabotage, that prevents work from getting done.

The most obvious cost of all this is turnover. A survey done by Challenger Gray & Christmas found that 29% of human resources executives surveyed have seen one or more employees at their companies quit as a direct result of workplace bullying. Furthermore, said Mr. Challenger, the number of employees actually leaving because of bullying is probably much higher, since many employees will not reveal it as the reason for their departure.

A rule of thumb: It costs 1.5 times salary to replace a non-supervisory position, and two times compensation to replace managers, said Mr. Namie. So, if a managerial position paying $100,000 annually is vacated twice in five years because of a workplace bully, the company had $400,000 in additional turnover costs as a direct result.

Another factor to consider is lost productivity attributable to absenteeism. “The associated costs can be outrageous,” Acclaim’s Mr. Fasulo said.

For example, said Mr. Fasulo, Acclaim looked at short-term disability claims and found that 30% were psychological claims, with 12% to 18% of those psychological claims related to bullying. Each employee absent because of psychological claims was away, on average, between 60 and 80 work days.

Tolerating bullying in the workplace may also lead to increased health-care costs. According to researchers at University College London who tracked workers for 11 years, workers who believed they were being unfairly treated at work were more likely to have serious heart disease.

Absenteeism, workers’ comp, disability claims and litigation represent the hard costs, but there are less tangible costs as well. “The bullying reputation cuts into recruitment,” said Mr. Namie. Word eventually gets out on the street that the work environment is not tolerable, he said, and recruits become unwilling to apply.

Mr. Challenger agreed. “Who wants to work for a toxic boss?

The problem we have in Higher Education is that the costs come from the taxpayer, the bullies pay nothing and almost always win - self-policing does not work. However, if a university or higher education institution becomes known as a bully nest, then good staff will not want to work there and the good name of the institution will be seriously damaged.


Anonymous said...

If you are leaving because you have been bullied -then say so...

If you are being bullied - then take action..

If you are aware of bullying going on then take action...

Don't be feeble....

Speak OUT against bullying


You know it makes sense.....

Aphra Behn

Anonymous said...

Soeak out


.....not tomorrow...

tomorrow never comes.....

Aphra Behn