Bullying – a serious issue in today’s workplace (Part 2)

By Daniela Kocis Fitzgerald, Director of the HR Dept Fingal 

This is the second part of a 2 part article – Part 1 here


Bullying doesn’t just harm the health of individuals, it also affects the company’s productivity. According to research carried out by the Psychological Science Association, the negative health effects associate with bullying lead to higher levels of absences, more sick days and higher turnover. Managing absence levels in a company as well as long term sick can be a burden on any organisation as it takes away time that can be used in a productive way. Managing sick pay, paying employees whilst out sick or just the fact that they accrue annual leave when off on certified sick, can have a negative financial impact on the company. High turnover can also be costly as the cost of hiring and training an employee can be very high. Every time an employee leaves, new costs are incurred when replacing them.


On the other hand, if the bullied employee chooses not to leave, the employer could face costs of rehabilitation of the employee, such as counselling fees in order to help the employee overcome any emotional issues they might face. And let’s not forget the bully. Once they are identified, and if they are not terminated, the employer might have costs associated with helping them function better in the workplace, such as anger management or counselling.


People don’t typically perform to the best of their ability when working in high stress situations and employers can face a loss of productivity due to workplace bullying. According to Bill Sutton from Stanford University, productivity could decline by 40% when workers are highly stressed and distracted by incidents of bullying. They can also feel loss of motivation, which might cause these employees to put in less effort and work less hours.


Apart from loss of productivity, another issue in organisations which have employees that are bullied is loss of time. Employees will avoid unpleasant situations and might go to great length to achieve this. From calling in sick , when perhaps they just feel anxious, to going on long term stress leave. According to Investopedia, research out of the United Kingdom suggests that 18.9 million working days are lost every year due to workplace bullying. Royal & Sun Alliance, the largest commercial insurance company in the United Kingdom, has estimated that this has cost businesses approximately 18 billion British pounds annually, which equates to approximately 8 to 10% of a company’s profits.


Another factor to be considered is the cost of litigation an employer could face because employers have a duty of care towards employees, and if the bullying was carried out on company property, on company time or whilst being an employee of the company, the employer could be liable. The costs could be litigation costs, but also the compensation which could potentially be awarded to the employee.


So how can bullying be prevented and managed? It is imperative that all organisations address the very serious issue relating to bullying in the workplace. Given the complexity and multidimensional nature of workplace bullying, there is no single approach which will be the answer to solving this problem.


Part of preventing workplace bullying is having anti bullying polices and procedures, which includes a definition of what would constitute bullying, the responsibilities and obligations of employees and employers alike, and a system for making complaints. However, recent research carried out by Salin, suggests that the existence of anti bullying policies neither increased nor decreased the reported likelihood of HR managers taking action to address workplace bullying.


Another measure to prevent workplace bullying is training and development. By providing a training programme that includes information on the obligations and responsibilities of employers and employees, in one measure to prevent workplace bullying. Raising awareness of the characterises and impact of bullying, as well as what consequences there would be, are vital steps in preventing workplace bullying. Such campaigns should take place throughout the entire organisation. Another step would be training managers on how to deal with bullying, how to investigate and what procedure to follow, as well as how to deal with sensitive cases.


Dealing with any bullying complaints in a timely manner is imperative as such behaviours can intensify if not dealt with early on. Early intervention is not just crucial in reducing the harm on targets and the organisation, but it also sends out a message that inappropriate behaviours will be addressed promptly. Complaints of bullying can be addressed either informally or formally. If a formal complaint is lodged, it is imperative that an investigation is started, that clear and specific information is provided, that employees are afforded their statutory rights, that the investigator is impartial, and that confidentiality is observed at all times.


It is very important that support is offered to employees at all times. Investment in an Employee Assistance Programme could be part of the anti-bullying campaign, giving the employees an impartial and confidential support, provided by qualified personnel, which could point the employees in the right direction, advise on how to deal with a bully, manage their stress, and deal with any repercussions of workplace bullying.


Workplace bullying is a complex phenomenon which has become the focus of a lot of research carried out globally. Given the negative consequences not only on targets, but also on companies, it is very important that all companies have clear policies and procedures, anti bullying campaigns, that employees are aware of their obligations towards their colleagues and the company and what repercussions there could be if bullying is identified. Employers should be very aware of their legal obligations towards employees in preventing and managing bullying in the workplace, as any litigation brought on can be very costly. Not only litigation can have a negative financial effect on a company, but also possible decreased productivity, increased absence and sickness, all relating to bullying in the workplace. Employees do not perform at their best when stressed and as bullying can be extremely stressful on a target, this could also cost the company. Therefore, all companies should focus on preventing bullying in the workplace, which can be more cost effective than dealing with the aftermath of a bullying investigation.