Victims of workplace bullies are less likely to quit than employees who observe the abuse, according to a study by a Canadian university. The 2012 research implies a costly threat to an organization’s teamwork and productivity.

“We tend to assume that people experiencing bullying bear the full brunt,” says a professor, Sandra Robinson, who co-authored the study at University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

“However, our findings show that people across an organization experience a moral indignation when others are bullied that can make them want to leave in protest,” says the professor.

Two surveys were conducted among nurses at a large, unnamed “Canadian health authority.” The academic business school stated that bullying is widespread in the healthcare profession. Nurses are particularly affected.

The results indicate that all of the study’s respondents who witness the bullying of their coworkers are more likely to quit.

In turn, it’s not surprising that bullying adversely impacts productivity, says Professor Robinson, even if the bystanders remain with the organization. That’s because they’re uncomfortable working in such an environment.

“Managers need to be aware that the behavior is pervasive and it can have a mushrooming effect that goes well beyond the victims,” she says. “Ultimately bullies can hurt the bottom line and need to be dealt with quickly and publicly so that justice is restored to the workplace.”

Extent of problem

It’s a widespread problem in business and the public sector.

The Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Wash. conducted two studies – in 2007 and 2010 – that show the extent of the problem in the U.S.

From the institute’s Web site, here are some eye-opening study results:

  • In Survey 1, Workplace Bullying was defined as “repeated, health harming abusive conduct committed by bosses and co-workers.”
  • In the single-question survey (Survey 2), Workplace Bullying was defined as “repeated mistreatment: sabotage by others that prevented work from getting done, verbal abuse, threatening conduct, intimidation, and humiliation”
  • 35 percent of workers have experienced bullying firsthand
  • 62 percent of bullies are men; 58 percent of targets are women
  • Women bullies target women in 80 percent of cases
  • Bullying is 4 times more prevalent than illegal harassment (2007)
  • 68 percent of bullying is same-gender harassment

Examples of workplace bullying – overt or subtle – can range from sarcastic managers picking on employees to constantly changing work guidelines.

Obviously, the data from Professor Robinson and the Workplace Bullying Institute is troubling.

As a matter of organization policy, bullying shouldn’t be tolerated. Care must be given to the recruitment and screening of managers. Managers need professional training. Bullying victims should seek coaching.

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related sources of information – for bosses and employees:

6 Steps to Implement a Cultural Change for Profits — If your company is lacking in teamwork, morale is poor and profits are weak, chances are you need to change your organization’s culture. Be forewarned, changing a culture is a monumental chore because it will take strategic planning and super powers of persuasion. Usually, it necessitates an outside participant to assess your culture and to facilitate the changes.

18 Leadership Strategies to Profit from Employee Respect — Even though Wall Street gets ecstatic over productivity growth, merely slashing costs and jobs to create profit is not sustainable for profits. Investors mistakenly believe the earnings for such publicly held companies are good, but it will not last. Workers are realizing they’re not sharing in the wealth. Poor morale will cause profits to plummet, and consumer demand will continue to plunge.

Do You Have A Toxic Relationship With Your Boss? — This may be the 21st century with a cornucopia of management textbooks for bosses, but a significant number of employees still complain about their supervisors lacking in professionalism. That’s according to a study by Wayne Hochwarter, a professor in management at Florida State University.

How to Deal With An Oppressive Employer — In the private and public sectors, organizational performance is strong when employees are managed properly. In turn, employees perform well and they are confident in their employers. So it was disturbing when someone asked me what to do about an abusive boss.

“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”

– Peter Drucker


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.