Why Organizations Can’t Afford to Tolerate Bullying

Chris Edmonds is the founder and CEO of the Purposeful Culture Group, which he launched after a 15-year career leading and managing teams.

Bullying causes immense personal grief as well as inhibiting employee work performance and work passion. Even so, it is all too common that bullying is ignored in organizations. Bullying often takes the form of subtle behaviors over time as opposed to bold actions – so, it can be difficult to gauge if a particular boss or employee is bullying.

Does your workplace tolerate bullying of any kind? If so, your workplace culture erodes both results and respect.

A Short History of the Workplace Bullying Institute

Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie founded their initial campaign against workplace bullying in 1998. In 2002, their campaign became the Workplace Bullying Institute to better reflect the research contribution made to the international fight against workplace bullying. The WBI remains the sole North American nonprofit organization dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying through education, research, and legislative advocacy.

Bottom line: if bullying behavior exists in any form in your workplace, you will not enjoy a purposeful, positive, productive work culture.


Key findings of the institute’s 2017 USA survey on bullying revealed:

  • 19% of Americans are bullied; another 19% witness it
  • 61% of Americans are aware of abusive conduct in the workplace
  • 61% of bullies are bosses
  • 70% of perpetrators are men; 60% of targets are women
  • 46% of Americans report worsening of work relationships following the 2016 election

Bottom line: if bullying behavior exists in any form in your workplace, you will not enjoy a purposeful, positive, productive work culture.

Two visible efforts to eliminate workplace bullying include:

  • The carefully crafted culture at WD-40 Company. CEO Garry Ridge and his tribe members create a vibrant, values-aligned work experience every day. Their culture of accountability ensures that everyone embraces their “Maniac Pledge,” which states in part, “I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I don’t wait for someone to tell me.”
  • Bob Sutton‘s fabulous – if bold – book, No Asshole Rule. Sutton, a Stanford University professor, did in-depth research on the hard-dollar cost of assholes in the workplace. The numbers will astound you. His advice? Toss ’em. As quickly as you can. Sutton’s book, Good Boss, Bad Boss, has garnered top honors among business literature. In it, he presents specific action steps for bosses to create a safe, humane workplace that enables performance and passion.

The culture change process provides senior leaders with the tools to eliminate workplace bullying. There are three steps – senior leaders must:

  • Define their organization’s servant purpose and measurable values, including clear descriptions of how each value will look like behaviorally. Seek feedback from employees to ensure they contribute to the final purpose & values statement (this also creates buy-in for the new cultural norms).
  • Clarify performance expectations for every player at every level. Ensure that goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and trackable. Staff needs to know what a good job looks like, and a performance plan with SMART goals does that beautifully.
  • Hold all staff accountable for both performance and values. Praise and celebrate those performing well while demonstrating valued behaviors. Coach, monitor, and (as needed) replace those who either do not perform well or do not demonstrate desired values.

A vital part of step three above is the creation and administration of a custom values survey, completed by all staff regularly (at least every six months). This survey will gather hard data on the extent to which bosses and employees demonstrate desired valued behaviors. It provides undeniable proof of good and not-so-good citizens.


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