“Bullying is characterized by:

• Repetition (occurs regularly)

• Duration (is enduring)

• Escalation (increasing aggression)

• Power disparity (the target lacks the power to successfully defend themself)

• Attributed intent”

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), bullying is four times more common than either sexual harassment or racial discrimination on the job.

Who The Bullies Are

Here is what you have to understand, the targets of workplace bullying are not the weakest players—they are often the strongest.

Let’s say that again. The common misconception is that, like schoolyard bullying, the targets of workplace bullying are loners, or “weird” or the people who “don’t fit.” In fact the reverse is true.

People become targets because something about them is threatening to the bully. Often they are more skilled, more technically proficient, have a higher EQ or people just like them better. They are often workplace veterans who mentor new hires.

“WBI research findings and conversations with thousands of targets have confirmed that targets appear to be the veteran and most skilled person in the workgroup” (quote from WBI).

Now the bully tends to be someone who is skilled at manipulating and controlling, but while they see everything as a competition, they do not feel skilled/competent enough to compete on their own merits. Hence they bully as a futile attempt to feel more powerful.

The bully often works hard to create the perception that they are strong by putting down and blaming others. Often the boss of the bully knows the bully is “disliked” but thinks that the organization cannot do without them and makes “allowances.” The bullying is framed as “personality conflict.”

What Bullying Is Costing Your Company

When you, as the leader of an organization allow bullying to occur you create at least five problems:

1. The target of the bullying will experience a loss of confidence and an increase in stress that often shows up in health problems. Their performance will decline. They may need more time off to recover. So you have lower performance by at least one person, the target.

2. By allowing the bullying to continue you are accepting a toxic culture, prevalent Critter State, and reduced performance and morale. The people witnessing the bullying will have to choose to side with the bully, leave, risk retribution by speaking out, or remain passive and try to stay under the bully’s radar. To be non-threatening to the bully they may lower their performance in some way.

3. Eventually the target will have no recourse but to leave. Research has shown that the vast majority of targets eventually leave. You now have lost a good employee and have all the costs of a new hire.

4. Plus you have the almost certain guarantee that the cycle will repeat itself. I find that organizations which condone bullying, which have prevalent Critter State, also have high employee turnover rates, far less revenue per employee, increased absences, and the list goes on and on.

5. You are opening yourself up to potential litigation. While bullying is not, strictly speaking, illegal it may be connected to a form of harassment or discrimination which can be subject to litigation. At the least attention will be taken up in tracking and “proving” a case.

All this from denying bullying—oh, and let’s add the personal guilt of not protecting one’s tribe.