How Bullying In The Workplace Hurts Everyone — Not Just The Victims

John Krautzel
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Workplace bullies try to manipulate, harass, humiliate or threaten employees at the office. The stress and anxiety that result can lead victims to experience illness, insomnia, high blood pressure and a host of medical maladies. Workplace bullying does not just have a high cost for the victims. Employers can suffer from bullies at the office, too.

Bullies can cost firms thousands of dollars due to a range of issues. Companies can solve these financial dilemmas by having a "no tolerance" policy for abusive people who take advantage of others. The costs of bullying add up over time, and these expenses could become unwieldy.

Time Off

Victims of bullies may need to take extra time off for sick days, personal days and mental refreshers because these unwitting souls simply do not want to deal with their tormentors. If a bully harasses more than one person, multiple people may take time off and affect productivity on a larger scale.

Lost Productivity

Even when a victim of bullying comes into work, that person may not feel like performing at a top level. Therefore, that person is less productive at the office. This simply comes from a loss of motivation because showing up at work is too stressful.

Higher Turnover Rates

A workplace bully may cause one or more people to quit. Again, this is because it is too intolerable to try to work around the person's detrimental behavior. Not only do victims of bullying quit, but those who witness the bullying also tend to quit because of the toxic atmosphere created by this person's attitude.

As many as 30 percent of bullied employees quit their jobs, and up to 20 percent of those who witness bullying also leave the company. The employer then covers the costs, spending time and effort to hire new staffers.

Increased Medical Costs

Bullied employees may seek medical treatment, which could make a company's health insurance premiums rise. Someone may also file worker's compensation, unemployment or disability claims because of a bully. An employer must cover those costs as well.

Legal Costs

If a bullied employee has a legal case, the employer must defend itself in court. These legal fees cost money before a jury rules in the case. A settlement, whether before or after trial, costs even more money in a wrongful dismissal or harassment case. The damage to the company's reputation may also prevent top-level talent from migrating to the firm due to its poor reputation.

Financial Impacts

All these costs and extra expenses affect a company's bottom line, revenue and profits. Lost productivity reduces output, lowers quality of products and may even lead to fewer customers because of poor customer service. In March 2002, Harris Psychological Associates in Orlando, Florida, reported that over the span of two years, workplace bullying cost the federal government $180 million in lost time and productivity.

One of the best ways employees can combat workplace bullying includes telling a trusted co-worker. Going to human resources also helps, as this department should be familiar with labor laws and issues. Unfortunately, no federal laws protect someone against workplace bullies, but the issue is gaining prominence among state legislatures.

Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jill if you were fired without cause, you could have a lawsuit against the company. It might be worth it to have a consult with a lawyer who deals in cases like yours and see if you could have a case against them. If nothing else, maybe you could get a nice severance package. And maybe, if you start the lawsuit, others from the company will join in.

  • Jill S.
    Jill S.

    I was bullied , but was not afraid of her. Unfortunately I talked to the administrator and asked for his help and went to HR as he instructed me to do and I was fired on July 10th 2015. I had an impeccable work record, no tardies or call ins and no occurrences. I had worked for the company for 10 years and the bully had just started at the end of March. I am still un-employed 9 months later and she is still there and the others she is awful to are scared of doing anything and losing their jobs. The pleasure of living in an AT WILL state, because no one cares.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Barbara so sorry to hear what happened to you. Even though the case might be hard to win, are you still going to pursue it? I would and I would talk to the other employee also and maybe do a joint lawsuit. If that other employee cries every day, she is going to end up in the same boat as you - fired with what she feels is no recourse. As hard as it might be to hear right now, bullies will usually get their comeuppance and Renee will be no different. May take some time but it will happen. One way you can get the word out to keep others from working for this woman is to do anonymous posts on places like GlassDoor, Indeed and other such sites that allow current and former employees to rate the company. You would be surprised how many people look at things like that before they apply. As for you, have you tried taking your skills into a different industry or a different type of position? That might be your best bet at this point. Have you applied for temp work? What about working from home? We wish all the best for you.

  • Barbara B.
    Barbara B.

    She lied about me about many things, and after being written up, I went to HR and asked about my recourse in this case. Funny, I was fired less than a week later. Talked to Department of Labor, and yes, a legal case would be close to impossible to win. Her only other employee cries every day but is too afraid to complain or quit (she was written up for insubordination when our boss instructed her not to get married or have children and she took offense to it). Six months later and I am still unemployed and going broke because of this bully. Great job Renee!

  • Barbara B.
    Barbara B.

    This person would call me for 2 hours at a time each day, belittling me for every piece of work that I could not get done (BECAUSE I was on the phone with her). I was told that taking a lunch break was "optional", was berated for even trying to take a half day vacation (my work was never going to be caught up). She was concerned about gossip at work and I was instructed to not have friends or talk to anyone.

  • Barbara B.
    Barbara B.

    I had an unfortunate experience with a workplace bully - who happened to be my new boss last year. She had not been in the workforce for 15 years and was brought on gosh knows how with no current industry experience or even relevant computer knowledge.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    I agree that companies have good reason for a zero tolerance policy against bullies. I know of a situation where a manager was consistently mean without cause to employees. The situation went on for several years and there was a lot of turnover in that department and productivity was low. The person actually did not get fired but was demoted to a regular staff position. I suppose the company could have saved money if they'd stepped in earlier.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Jay there are so many places that you could contact, outside of your company, to assist you with a bully - such as But, I caution here, be prepared for the consequences. Even if they can't legally fire you because you contacted an outside lawyer, they can make your life so miserable that all you can do is resign. That's why they are called bullies. Absolutely right @Kellen. Workplace bullies can cause issues with production even to the point of stopping production altogether. It's up to you to decide if you want to escalate the issue; live with it; or resign.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    So, where can employees go for help with bullying if their HR departments are unresponsive — or worse still, if they don't have HR departments because their employers are too small to have dedicated human resources teams? Are there outside "forces" which can help bullied employees gain a measure of justice when the regular channels let them down?

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    I agree that lost productivity is a major problem when bullies enter the picture. Think about how much time employees "gossip" about a bully. They become a hot topic, quickly! Obviously the emotional impact on the victims is huge, but the bad vibes a bully puts out there can quickly spread like a cancer, affecting everyone. They can make productivity grind to a halt.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments. @William that may be the way to go in some cases but not all. You have to know that as soon as you contact a lawyer you had best be ready to move on to a new position. Even though the law protects the person reporting the bully, that doesn't mean that you won't be totally shunned in the company. Nothing says that anyone has to communicate with you once you make the report. So I caution against making that your first step in all cases. @Emma it's simply a case of not wanting to get involved. Many years ago there was a case where a woman was raped right on the front steps of her apartment building. She screamed and screamed for help. The neighbors all heard but not one of them case to her rescue because they didn't want to get involved. Certainly that is wrong but it is a reality. Silence is not acceptable even though it happens every day.

  • Emma Rochekins
    Emma Rochekins

    Responsibility for reporting bullying behavior rests with observers of the behavior, too, not just the person(s) being bullied. Witnesses of bullying must speak up and let the bully know the behavior is unacceptable. Too often, people stay silent to avoid uncomfortable situations, avoid confrontation and avoid becoming the target next. Silence is not acceptable and certainly doesn't improve the situation for anyone except the bully.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I disagree with the assertion that going to a trusted co-worker or HR is the right way to go. The first place I would go is a lawyer and then try to record the bully acting up at the office. Unfortunately, workplace bullying and harassment is very hard to prove to a jury. Maybe a press release to the local media after the lawyer files the suit is the way to go, because that puts pressure and negative attention on the employer. In a civil suit, a lawyer could name the bully as well, which could lead to even more public shaming of the person in question.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. So sad that so many of us have witnessed bullying or even been bullied ourselves. What if the bully is our supervisor? Well that's a tough one because if you request a meeting with your supervisor to address the issue, he/she is going to just dismiss your concerns by telling you something like there's no bullying here and if you think there is you either need to grow thicker skin or move on. And, if you go over their head, well you might as well be prepared to find another position ASAP. This is sad but true and these bullies seem to get away with it. But, in my experience, sooner or later, the bully is going to have a bully boss and really find out how it feels. I am a firm believer in what goes around comes around. Anyone else? Have you been bullied? Did you report it? How did it end?

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    Unfortunately, I have seen workplace bullying in many forms. While I realize that it is important to report the behavior to a supervisor, co-worker or human resources, how would you suggest handling bullying BY a supervisor? I know that many people are fearful to report behavior of a supervisor because of potential retaliation.

  • Erica  T.
    Erica T.

    I worked for a company that experienced high employee turnover due to a handful of people who bullied co-workers and clients. Our department head went so far as to hire a workplace communications coach who spent a week with us – that was a whole week of minimal production for the company. It didn't help anyway. After witnessing many uncomfortable situations – coworkers belittling each other in front of clients, endless gossip and rumors, people crying in the bathroom, people stealing each other's ideas, etc. – I had to quit. The stress was just too much. I kept wondering if I would be bullied next and I didn't know who I could trust. I couldn't build relationships with my co-workers simply because I couldn't trust anyone. It's very hard to accomplish anything at the workplace if you don't collaborate with others. Looking back, I wish I had said more or filed a complaint, but I don't think it would have mattered much. Thanks for this article, I hope employers read this and realize what a real problem workplace bullying can be and how it affects people long after they leave and find new jobs.

  • Laura Winzeler
    Laura Winzeler

    I think “poor customer service” merits its own paragraph here. I’ve been in situations as the direct face to the public responsible for upholding the company or bullying manager’s perceived positive reputation. After so much stress, it’s impossible to continue to tend to clients with the same commitment and charm. If appealing to someone above the bully is sure to have no effect, and confronting the bully only escalates the toxic environment, is there really any other choice but to quit? It's been my solution.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the great comments. In my opinion, a person would be considered a bully if the actions occurred all of the time. Everyone has a bad day so just because your boss snapped at you the other day does not make him a bully. It is tough to work in a toxic environment like that. The TV show "The Office" poked fun at the bully. But, in real life, one bully can spoil it for everyone to the point where no one wants to come to work. If you are feeling dread on Sunday night knowing that you have to go to work the next day, maybe it's time to take this above the bully's head and get your HR involved. If that is clearly not an option - especially in smaller companies that don't have the luxury of having an HR Department - then you can try to talk to the bully about the behavior and what it's causing in the work place. But never go it alone. Never do a one-on-one with this person. If that doesn't work, maybe you can go over his head but be prepared for the backlash. Have you ever worked in a place where the big boss knows about the bullying but turns a blind eye to it? I have and that's when I knew it was time to go.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    This is definitely one of those situations that it's tempting to ignore, but ignoring it is much, much more costly in the long run. Lawsuits in particular are always a danger: if an employer knew that a bullying situation was going on and looked the other way, they can be liable later for the bully's behavior.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    While this article is filled with things that may occur and could possibly happen as a result of what might have been bullying, I think it does draw attention to the important fact that a negative work environment impacts everybody. Even if an employee is not directly the target of an aggressive, bullying coworker, seeing that kind of behavior day in and day out tends to drag down overall productivity and morale.

  • Andrew  S.
    Andrew S.

    I don't think it's all that hard to draw the line between a true bully and a person who is simply being nasty occasionally. A bully is often someone who picks on a single individual and harasses him on a regular basis. Problem is the victim will often be afraid to report on his bully, so it's on the HR department to put in place mechanisms to identify workplace bullying.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I understand that workplace bullies can be a huge problem, but at what point does a person become classified as one? I imagine most of us have worked with another person who is a complete and total pain to even be around, someone that we avoid whenever possible. But where is the line drawn between this pest of a person and a true bully?

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