Researchers estimate one in four employees is likely to encounter repeated bullying at some time in their working lives and that workplace bullying costs Australian businesses between $17 billion and $36 billion each year, with hidden costs including high levels of absenteeism, a breakdown of teams and work relationships and a negative image of the organisation — which is likely to make it much harder to attract the best and brightest. There is also the danger that the workplace that fails to protect employees will expose itself to prolonged and costly litigation.
Failure to adequately tackle workplace bullying has definitely led to greater costs for Australian organisations, both through the workers’ compensation process and higher insurance premiums. In Australia, claims for compensation over stress account for only seven per cent of the total number of compensation claims, but make up 27 per cent of the total cost.
As Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and author of the book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, points out, nasty people don’t just make others feel miserable; they create economic headaches for their companies.
“Companies that put up with jerks not only can have more difficulty recruiting and retaining the best and brightest talent but are also prone to higher client churn, damaged reputations and diminished investor confidence. Innovation and creativity may suffer, and cooperation could be impaired, both within and outside the organisation — no small matter in an increasingly networked world,” he writes.
“The problem is more widespread than you might think. Research in the United Kingdom and the United States suggests that jerk-infested workplaces are common: a 2000 study by Loraleigh Keashly and Karen Jagatic found that 27 per cent of the workers in a representative sample of 700 Michigan residents experienced mistreatment by someone in the workplace.
“There is good news and bad news about workplace jerks. The bad news is that abuse is widespread and the human and financial toll is high. The good news is that leaders can take steps to build workplaces where demeaning behaviour isn’t tolerated and nasty people are shown the door.”
Narelle Hess, an Australian organisational psychologist with Challenge Consulting, says many organisations are confused about what constitutes bullying, leading to bullying going unreported by staff members and organisational failure to prevent and appropriately manage bullying behaviours.
Hess says workplace bullying is defined as “repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a person or group of persons at a workplace, which creates a risk to health and safety”. Intent is irrelevant. Bullying can take place at any time when employees are engaged in work-related activities, including work social events. Bullying can also take many forms including verbal, physical, by letter, e-mail, or text message.
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