Workplace Bullying: A Step Closer to Economic Downturn for Company

Published by ISAFIS on

Author: Muhammad Fandy Zainuddin

One of the greatest assets that a company owns is their people; both the employers and the employee. And yet, it is ironic to learn that some companies are apparently in the midst of constant queries about whether they have taken care of this asset well, or perhaps that is one thing that they pay measly attention to. While we understand that companies are valued based on how much net income they could generate periodically, it is also essential for us to realize that all of those wealth will never happen without the dedication of all the people who work for them. In short, it is also about the human capital that the company has. Out of so many factors that constitute the human capital of the company, the mental well-being of the employee remains as one of the reasons why the company fails to fully leverage this significant asset.

As much as it’s often associated with, one of the major contributors of mental health disruption is bullying. Bullying knows no place nor time. It happens now and then, here and there. It could happen at home, school, social media, and also at the workplace. Due to the vast scope of its reach, the perpetrator of bullying can also be anyone. When we apply that principle to a company, bullying could occur in between employees, employers, employees and customers, and often times, between employers and employee. According to the research conducted by H. Hoel and C.L. Cooper, most of the perpetrators are supervisors. The second most common group is peers, followed by subordinates and customers.[1] This fact leads to another confusion on how does bullying exactly hatch and flourish within the company, and how does it actually occur.

The term workplace bullying itself was first initiated in 1992 in a book by Andrea Adams, where she talked about how to confront and overcome the perpetual issue that had never been addressed at that time.[2] Meanwhile, it piques one’s interest that there hasn’t even been one universally accepted formal definition of what workplace bullying is ever since then. Many researchers have endeavoured to define it, namely Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf and Cooper[3] who defined “Bullying at work means harassing, offending, socially excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks. In order for the label bullying (or mobbing) to be applied to a particular activity, interaction or process it has to occur repeatedly and regularly (e.g. weekly) and over a period of time (e.g. about six months). Bullying is an escalated process in the course of which the person confronted ends up in an inferior position and becomes the target of systematic negative social acts.” On the same matter, Catherine Mattice and Karen Garman define workplace bullying with its effect to the economic viability of the company as “Systematic aggressive communication, manipulation of work, and acts aimed at humiliating or degrading one or more individual that create an unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between bully and target(s), result in psychological consequences for targets and co-workers, and cost enormous monetary damage to an organization’s bottom line”.[4]

Drawing a conclusion from the intersection of the two definitions offered, workplace bullying is characterized by any degrading or humiliating action that is done in repetition within a timely duration, including increasing aggression and existing power disparity. The examples of workplace bullying may include unwarranted or invalid criticism, being treated differently than the rest of the group, verbal abuse, being shouted at or being humiliated, excessive monitoring or micro-managing, being given unrealistic deadlines, being the target of practical jokes, blamed without justification, exclusion or social isolation, physical intimidation, excessive micro-managing, purposely withholding vital information, setting impossible goals for subordinates to reach, blocking potential training and employment, tampering with an employee’s personal belongings, and removing areas of responsibility without cause.[5] With all those examples of misconduct mentioned, it would be easier for us to identify how many workers are trapped within the workplace bullying prison and how much it economically costs the company.

According to a survey, 19% of employees have suffered workplace bullying at work, another 19% have witnessed it, and 63% are aware that workplace bullying happens. Another statistic also shows that in the United States of America, 60,3 millions of workers are affected by workplace bullying, in which that number is equivalent to a combined population of six western states.[6] With that numbers showcased, it’s no longer surprising that the effect of workplace bullying is growing even larger from the disrupted mental wellbeing and anxiety of the workers into the decline of company productivity, resulting with unavoidable economic loss.

Several studies have tried to quantify the cost that workplace bullying incurs to the company. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety Health (NIOSH) mental illness among the workforce leads to a loss in employment amounting to $19 billion and a drop in productivity of $3 billion (Sauter, et al., 1990). In a report commissioned by the ILO, Hoel, Sparks, & Cooper did a comprehensive analysis of the costs involved in bullying. They estimated a cost of 1.88 billion pounds plus the cost of lost productivity.[7] This number of loss is believed to be caused by human resources mismanagement where companies have neglected intangible assets such as the mental wellbeing of their own workers and resulting with the crystallization of bullying within the company’s culture.

To rectify this, there are a number of solutions that could be implemented by the Human Resources Department of a company, which includes:[8]

Workplace Policy & Procedures

A strong policy and workable procedures are key to managing workplace bullying and harassment issues. The policy should include a statement of commitment from senior management, making clear that it is unlawful, will not be tolerated and may be treated as a disciplinary offence. It should provide examples of unacceptable behaviour, outline prevention steps the organisation takes, and responsibilities of supervisory staff. It should define formal and informal grievance procedures, with clear processes for reporting bullying and harassment, information on investigation procedures and timelines, disciplinary procedures, and the rights of the employee under the existing regulations, including confidentiality and the right to be accompanied at grievance hearings.

Workplace Culture

Workplace behaviour, attitudes and knowledge are as important as policies and procedures. Managers should be trained in all aspects of the organisation’s policies as well as the company’s expectations, as it is often the behaviour of supervisory employees that drive the culture of an organisation. Additionally, all staff should be aware of the company’s standards of behaviour. An organisational statement is helpful in ensuring individuals are fully aware of their responsibilities, and what constitutes bullying and harassment. Guidance booklets and training sessions are also useful ways of increasing awareness of the damage bullying and harassment can do to an organisation and individual.

Dealing with Complaints

Employers must take reasonable and proportionate action upon receipt of a complaint of bullying and / or harassment. It should be investigated promptly and objectively with evidence gathered from all relevant sources before a decision is made.


  1. Informal Resolution: In some cases, matters may be rectified informally through discussions with the individual about their behaviour and agreement that it will cease. You can offer support from another staff member, a manager, an employee representative or a counsellor, either in-house or via a counselling service.
  2. Mediation: Mediation is a voluntary process where an independent third person finds a solution to the issue that both parties can both agree to. Mediators may be employees trained to act as internal mediators, or from an external mediation provider.
  3. Disciplinary Procedures: If you decide that the matter is a disciplinary issue, it needs to be managed formally according to the organisation’s disciplinary procedure, with a focus on fairness to both the complainant and accused. The Acas Code of Practice sets out principles for handling disciplinary and grievance situations, and employment tribunals are legally required to take the Code into account when considering cases.

[1] HOEL, H. and COOPER, C.L., 2000. Destructive conflict and bullying at work. Manchester School of Management, UMIST Manchester, UK.,

[2] Rayner, C., & Cooper, C. L. (2006). Workplace Bullying. In Kelloway, E., Barling, J. & Hurrell Jr., J. (eds.), Handbook of workplace violence (pp. 47-90). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[3] Stale Einarsen, Helge Hoel, Cary Cooper (2003). Bullying and emotional abuse in the workplace: International perspectives in research and practice. London: Taylor and Francis. p. 15.

[4] Mattice, C.M., & Garman, K. (June 2010). Proactive Solutions for Workplace Bullying: Looking at the Benefits of Positive Psychology”. Archived from the original on 4 April 2013. Retrieved 18 April 2013.

[5] Jenni Gobind, Human Capital Review . Workplace Bullying: The Practical Application for Human Resource Practitioners.

[6] Gary Namie, PhD, Workplace Bullying Institute (2017).S. Workplace Bullying Survey.

[7] “The cost of violence and bullying at work”. International Labour Organization (ILO). Archived from the original on 30 April 2009. Retrieved 13 February 2009.

[8] Libby Calaby (October 2016). Does Your Organization Properly Tackle Workplace Bullying. Human Results UK