Lack of Leadership to Blame for Increasing Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying would dramatically decrease if leaders would first openly and formally make aggressive or abusive conduct unacceptable. Here are some practical tips on how to minimize the issue.

More than 72% of the U.S. workforce is disengaged, costing the nation’s business $450 to $500 billion in revenues annually. This growing concern often is analyzed as a cultural indicator of individuation or as a Millennial and Generation Z phenomenon of entitlement.

But one primary (and often overlooked) source of employee disengagement is unsolved or badly managed bullying in the workplace—it affects 75% of American workers, causing decreased productivity, lower morale, and higher personnel turnover. Defined as repeated mistreatment of an employee by one or more employees, workplace bullying is hitting the reputation of U.S. business leadership hard:

  • 61% of bullies are bosses.
  • 71% of employer reactions are harmful to targets—versus 60% of coworker reactions.
  • 45% of employees have reported worsening of work relationships in the last four years.

Lack of Awareness or Leadership Crisis?

As reported by, less than 20% of employers will help a bullied target, leaving 65.6 million victims without much recourse—other than, for 61% of them, leaving their job in order to escape the resulting emotional stress and suffering.

According to a 2017 U.S. workplace bullying survey on employers’ attitude and reaction to bullying in their organizations:

  • 22% never learned about bully’s misconduct.
  • 26% did nothing when complaint was filed.
  • 46% investigated inappropriately, and nothing changed.
  • 71% showed negative reactions.
  • 23% took action with positive changes for target.
  • 6% took action that resulted in a negative outcome for perpetrator.

Direct Costs Related to Bullying

Employers must realize that poor or no action against bullying can have a dramatic impact on the survival of their organization. Here are just a few alarming indicators:

  • Bullying targets lose 7 to 10 hours of work per week.
  • Targets will lose $8,800 of yearly wage loss on average.
  • Up to 400 hours of production can be lost due to the target taking sick/vacation days.
  • 72% of people will leave their job after being bullied or witnessing bullying at work.
  • 9 out of 10 employees will report higher stress level and emotional breakdown in a bully environment.

You would think the turnover, retraining, absenteeism, and potential litigation costs would be enough to concern any business owner or executives about workplace bullying. Not necessarily! Approximately 43% of executives believe workplace violence is not an alarming issue. And 67% believe workplace violence does NOT create a negative impact on their budget.

Developing an Anti-Bully Culture

Bullies have always existed; employers must either learn how to deal with them or avoid hiring them in the first place. But bullying would dramatically decrease if leaders would first openly and formally make aggressive or abusive conduct unacceptable. Here are some practical tips on how to minimize the issue:

  • Develop a formal code of conduct that:

1. Defines bullying in the workplace.

2. Educates staff on the negative effects of bullying on an individual and group’s morale and on the organization’s survival.

3. Raises awareness and responsibility of every group member.

4. Clearly defines penalties for non-compliance.

  • Create a “zero-tolerance” policy on the subject, comparable to zero tolerance for drugs, and enforce it at all levels without any exception.
  • Apply full transparency on the subject during staff meetings, while rewarding positive attitudes and discouraging/punishing bullying behaviors.
  • Ensure that executives manage by example, treating everyone fairly and with care, without exception—and condemning any bullying attitude.
  • Confront the bully without delay. Use a formal feedback form to report the perpetrator’s attitude and outline objectively any behavior that must change.
  • Train your HR staff to help people deal with bullying. Both the bully and his or her targets need to be educated, and procedures must be in place on how to deal with the issue.
  • Use happiness at work as a major focus of leadership. In my whitepaper “Hire for Happiness,” I report that companies that focus on employees’ happiness are 20% more competitive, 31% more productive, and generate 37% more sales; additionally, happy employees take 10 times fewer sick days and stay twice as long in their job. In a happy environment, it is harder for a bully personality to act freely.

Hiring: How to Detect Damaging Bullies

It is important to understand the bully personality in order to detect them before you give them a job. As a note, almost everyone might demonstrate, under certain circumstances, some characteristics of a bully personality. What is important in the hiring process is to detect applicants who have a strong tendency to act regularly as a bully. At, we have successfully used for the last 29 years pre-hire assessments, reference checks, and investigative interview techniques to detect the potentially “damaging” bully personality. Here are just a few characteristics:

  • Very talented at manipulating others, especially those who have a less dominant personality.
  • Trying to control others, especially those who might be a “menace” to their personal ends.
  • Seeing the best people in their team as competition.
  • Using their bullying attitude to show power and influence that their position does not allow.
  • Hiding self-confidence by demonstrating an arrogant or imposing attitude.
  • Putting down weaker team members.
  • Often compulsive and noisy while the boss is absent.
  • Will select other team members to be accomplices in rough attitude, to justify the bullying.
  • Will pretend to have great team spirit but when challenging them on the subject and doing reference checks, you get a (very) different feedback/picture.

The Golden Rule

The destructive impact of bullying in the workplace can be minimized if leaders are more aware and more willing to do something about it. Fundamental principles of respect for others and for the “Golden Rule” (Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you) make up the basics of relationship. It is up to employers and their executives to enforce such fundamentals to compensate for a lack of legislation on the matter. In any case, it is not up to the government to regulate personal behavior at work; rather, it is up to every one of us!

Patrick Valtin is the president and CEO of HireBox International, as well as an international speaker and author. Considered an industry leader in recruiting, pre-employment assessment, personnel performance evaluation, and human resources development, he has trained more than 120,000 people in 35-plus countries over the last 29 years. Valtin received an MBA in International Business Studies from the Moore Business School at the University of South Carolina in 1982; his clients over the last 29 years have included executives and sales representatives from Ford Motor Co., BMW, Mercedes, Motorola, IBM, and Century 21. His book, “No-Fail Hiring 2.0,” is a bestseller on Amazon.


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