From Playground to Boardroom: What is the Cost of Bullying in your Organization?


Do you have a boss(s), colleague(s) or co-worker(s) in your organization that demonstrate behaviors that cause anxiety and fear in others? Do you find yourself or others making statements such as “that is just who they are” and the behaviors are allowed to go on? Have you ever had the feeling that you wanted to stay home from work because one or more individuals in your work environment cause you anxiety, or the environment has succumb to the behaviors and displays low-morale? I would bet we could all agree that bullying occurs on some level in almost all organizations. While as a society we focus mostly on bullying in schools and of school age children, bullying moves on from the playground to the boardroom. Bullying occurs in all levels of society and the workplace and it has become the “silent epidemic” in the workplace Let’s examine the cost of this behavior and some solutions for making your work environment safe.

The American Society for the Positive Care of Children (American SPCC) identify on their website at  that bullying can result in the following symptoms, but not limited to:

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced appetite
  • Aggression

The American SPCC goes on to discuss that:

  • “Children cannot get a quality education if they do not feel safe at school”
  • “160,000 children per day do not attend school for a fear of being bullied”
  • “The child who is overweight is the most likely to be bullied”

The long term effects of this behavior can be great including but not limited to, costing society life as a result of suicide or aggression toward others, and reduction in qualified work force as a result of not attending school or failing education.

When bullying moves from the playground to the boardroom many symptoms observed in school age children are recognized as early signs of bullying in the workplace. The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) notes on their website at that early signs of bullying include but are not limited to:

  • You are sick to your stomach the night before going to work or just before
  • You are irritable at home and your family complains that you obsess too much about work at home
  • You are calling in sick for “mental health days”
  • You do not enjoy your time off from work. You are exhausted and “lifeless”
  • You are experiencing physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, headaches, eating too much or too little, inability to concentrate and more. You may even be told by your physician to find another job.

Reflecting on these Identified symptoms by WBI organizations risk:

  • High rates of turnover
  • Low efficiency due to high absence rates
  • Financial instability due to an inability to serve customers and payment of sick time
  • A hostile work environment
  • Legal Action
  • Employees seeking to unionize

Let’s now take a good look at what bullying is and what it is not. First I would like to address what it is not. Bullying is not conflict with another person. Conflict as long it is respectful can be positive and can promote healthy change in an organization. Bullying is not disagreeing with another view point. Disagreement, when respectful can lead to healthy challenge of one’s thought processes and promote growth. Bullying is not supporting and acting on policies that prevent bullying or that motivate employees to be accountable for their actions and behaviors. As long as that action is respectful and supportive.

So what then, does bullying in the work place look like? The WBI defines bullying on their website at  At the risk of making this week’s blog a long read, I am cutting and pasting this information here for you. I cannot define it better and the WBI is a great resource for your further research on this topic. The WBI defines workplace bullying as:

“Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is :

  • Threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done, or
  • Verbal abuse”

The WBI goes on to state that “Workplace Bullying. . .

  • Is driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual(s).
  • Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods.
  • Is a set of acts of commission (doing things to others) or omission (withholding resources from others)
  • Requires consequences for the targeted individual
  • Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion.
  • Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself.
  • Is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll.”

The financial impact of bullying is also significant for organizations. Janet Fowler authored “Financial Impacts of Workplace Bullying” retrieved at: In this article she states that “somewhere between 20% and 50% of individuals have been subject to bullying in the work place”. Fowler, also notes the financial impact of this on the organization to include:

  • A possible 40% decline in productivity of employees focused on bullying
  • Research out of the United Kingdom that demonstrates lost work days to be as high as 18.9 million days which translates to a 10% profit loss
  • Up to 20% employee turnover rate for those employees who witness others being bullied
  • Up to 70% employee turnover rate for those employees who have experienced bullying directly

There are more costs to an organization identified and should raise concern for the financial health of the organization. These include legal actions taken for the failure to address bullying and to allow for the behaviors to continue. One legal website I found cited a case in which the victim was awarded $1, 360, 027 in damages for employer negligence in dealing with reported behavior and victimization

The above cited and stated risks to an organization are not all inclusive. The question however remains what can we do about it? If this behavior is an embedded behavior in society, how do we deal with it once it reaches the workplace? Here are some ways of managing this behavior, please note these are not all inclusive:


  • Self-reflect on your own behavior. Are you a dark leader?
  • Know the laws and how these laws impact your organizational environment and your responsibilities
  • Know the risk level of your organizational environment
  • Be consistent and fair and follow-up with all complaints of harassment, abuse, bullying
  • Be honest and do not minimize the behavior when it is reported
  • Assure anti-bullying policies and procedures are current and supportive of a no-tolerance environment
  • Educate on what bullying and harassment is and how to respond to it
  • Work with your staff to establish clear behavioral standards
  • Set clear expectations for all levels of employees from entry level to the boardroom
  • Provide opportunity for the bully to change, set expected courses of action, complete performance evaluations fairly and consistently
  • Provide for mental health benefits
  • If the bully cannot change let them go. Do not move them around the organization to affect others or demote them to other positions where they can still affect the work environment in a toxic way
  • Role model the appropriate workplace behaviors consistently


  • Self-reflect on your own behavior. Do you have a dark side?
  • Know the laws and how these laws impact your responsibilities
  • Be accountable for your own actions
  • Advocate for yourself and others by reporting bullying behavior
  • Work with your management and leadership to establish and maintain behavioral standards
  • Educate others on bullying behaviors when appropriate
  • Assist your management and leadership in the development of no-tolerance policies and procedures and follow them
  • Role model the appropriate workplace behaviors consistently



  • Be kind
  • Be respectful
  • Advocate for each other and step in and up when necessary
  • Set boundaries for how others may treat you
  • Understand what bullying and harassment is
  • Report when appropriate
  • Role model the appropriate workplace behaviors consistently


Thank you for reading this week’s Talk Tuesday. I am hopeful that you have found at least one take away that you can apply in your practice or organization today. Please take time to visit my website to learn more about me and my services at Also, before you leave my blog site please take the time to enter your email address and follow my weekly blog.

Talk Tuesday,

The Legal Nurse

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