HR Mistake Of The Week: How Workplace Bullying Can Destroy Office Morale

Bullying in schools has been getting tons of media attention in recent years. Bullying has been blamed for everything from dropouts to suicides, and high-profile trials including the prosecution of Tyler Clementi’s former Rutgers college roommate have captured public attention. Just last week, Lady Gaga launched a new anti-bullying foundation to address the problem. But most of the attention on bullying focuses on kids, not adults. In fact, bullying is a major workplace issue, too. HR departments that ignore it are playing with fire.

The issue comes to mind this week because of a brand-new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management that finds 51% of organizations reported incidents of bullying. The organization defined bullying as “persistent, offensive, intimidating or insulting behavior or unfair actions directed at another individual, causing the recipient to feel threatened, abused, humiliated or vulnerable.” Both bullies and targets could be employees, clients, or vendors.

The most common types of workplace bullying behaviors reported were verbal abuse (73%), malicious gossip (62%), and threats or intimidation (57%). And 16% reported physical assaults.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that these are the forms bullying takes — this sounds like the manifestations of schoolyard behavior, too. But many people don’t realize how severe the effects of bullying can be on an office atmosphere: It’s not just a matter of one sensitive employee with hurt feelings.

According to the survey, he most common effects of this behavior were:

–decreased morale (68%)
–increased stress and/or depression levels (48%)
–decreased trust among coworkers (45%)
–decreased productivity (42%)
–increased turnover (38%)
–decreased trust in management (37%)
–increased absenteeism (23%)

Despite the grave effects of “untreated” bullying, 44% of organizations have no bullying policy in place, and no plans to implement one. Overwhelmingly, it falls to HR to handle these incidents.

If all this is not enough to convince you that bullying can have a corrosive effect in the office, how about this: 27% of HR professionals said they had been bullied at work, too.

Photo: Lisa S. /

Share This Post: