Graves takes a look at bullying in a global context, and asks what is it, how
does it impact on your business, and what policy decisions can you take to
Bullying in the workplace costs businesses hundreds of billions of pounds a
year with at least one in 10 employees reporting being bullied at some time
during their working life. In recent surveys carried out in the UK, the US,
Australia, and European Union, the percentage of people who had been bullied in
the workforce ranged from 8 to 20 per cent – and this is without looking at
parts of the world where employee protection and health and safety regulations
are much less developed.
A study of 3,500 UK workers by Mercer Human Resource Consulting found more
than one in five had been bullied at work at least once during the past year.
Almost one in 10 reported bullying on more than one occasion, with 2 per cent
saying they have been bullied five or six times.
The TUC reported last year that the most recent figures available showed
that 1.3 million people had been attacked at work in the UK during one year. In
the US workplace, there are two million violent victimisations a year, including
assaults, rapes and robberies; and an average of 1,000 workplace murders a
year, according to The National Crime Victimisation Survey in the early 1990s,
the most recent figures available.
In Australia estimates on ‘harassment’ in the workplace range from 400,000
to two million workers affected each year, affecting between up to five million
workers at some point during their working lives (Beyond Bullying Association
2001). There are similar figures for Europe – about 8 per cent of EU workers
(or 12 million workers) have been bullied, according to a European Union survey
Bullying is a more common problem, then, than illegal discrimination such as
racist or sexist behaviour and affects both sexes. The US Campaign Against
Workplace Bullying (CAWB) survey in 2000 found both men and women guilty of
bullying, with women making up three-quarters of the targets. More than 80 per
cent of bullies are bosses.
It is a matter of concern because of the severe effects it has on employees.
The CAWB found 41 per cent of bullying victims were diagnosed with depression.
And one in five men and one in three women suffered from post-traumatic stress
Quite apart from the personal human misery implied from these figures, it
also costs businesses money. More than 80 per cent of respondents to the CAWB
reported effects preventing them being productive at work through anxiety and
sleeplessness. And 80 per cent left their jobs – half through choice. So the
result of bullying for employers is underperforming staff or losing staff –
both expensive options.
In the worst cases, the business may end up being sued. One of the highest
compensation payouts for bullying at work in the UK reached £230,000. The
highest recent settlement in the US was $3m (£1.9m) – although this was later
reduced to $300,000 (£187,000) by a federal court.
The total cost can be huge. A survey carried out by the Australian
government estimates the cost of bullying to be $Aus 6-7bn (£2.2bn to 2.5bn) a
year or 0.9 per cent to 2 per cent of GDP. A serious case over six months
between Aus$17,000 and Aus$24,000, (£6,000-£9,000) or anything up to
Aus$175,000 (£64,000) a case (including everything from legal and settlement
costs and estimated costs of operating in the meantime minus that worker). In
the UK the estimated cost is £2bn a year, according to a report by the London
Chamber of Commerce.
The movement against bullying in the workplace is now gathering momentum.
One of the countries at the forefront is Sweden, which has had anti-bullying legislation
since 1993 – the ordinance of the Swedish National Board of Occupational Safety
and Health contained provisions for measures against Victimisation at Work. And
Australia completed a huge study of workplace violence in March 2002, the
Queensland Government Workplace Bullying Taskforce Report.
All over the world Bills are being drafted against bullying: the Dignity at
Work Bill in the UK, which failed to pass through parliament before the summer
break in 2002, but could be revived; the US Campaign against Bullying is
planning to lobby for state legislation in California then Colorado and other
US states; and the European Union commissioned research into violence in the
workplace which was completed in 2001 – a first step towards legislation.
There are vocal pressure groups in most countries, too, such the CAWB run by
Gary Namie in the US. "We need to make it legally actionable," he
says. "At the moment in the US, for example, a woman can’t sue another
woman for bullying. She can only sue if it is sexual harassment."
What is bullying in the workplace?
Headache number one for HR departments is that bullying is defined
differently in different parts of the world. Where there is no legislation
specifically about bullying, anti-discrimination legislation or human rights
legislation can be used to bring legal cases against an employer.
The problem with not defining it is that one man’s bully can be another’s
‘robust’ manager, with a tough style that could, even unintentionally, distress
employees. A general definition is that bullying is a form of psychological or
In Australia, the Queensland Government Workplace Bullying Taskforce
redefined bullying as ‘workplace harassment’ in its report published in March
2002, because harassment had already been recognised as ‘prohibited conduct’.
The definition runs:
"Workplace harassment is repeated behaviour other than behaviour that
is sexual harassment, that:
– Is directed at an individual worker or group of workers, and
– Is offensive, intimidating, humiliating or threatening, and
– Is unwelcome and unsolicited, and
– A reasonable person would consider to be offensive, intimidating or
threatening for the individual worker or group of workers."
Has bullying increased?
Bullying is a growing problem because of new workplace stresses. Jane
Carrington, managing director of Right CoreCare, a company that runs Employee
Assistance Programmes in the UK, (see p20) suggests: "There may be more
emphasis now on performance, with the personnel department which [previously]
dealt with employee welfare and supporting the employee, looking at their
wellbeing, becoming human resources which looks at recruitment, retention and
performance. But you have a lot of people frightened of change."
The cultural factor
Not all cultures recognise bullying as a problem, although problems can
arise when two cultures clash. Zareen Karani Araoz, president of the US-based
consultancy Managing Across Cultures, has studied workers in countries as
diverse as Japan and India, and their working relationship with Western
"Cross-cultural training needs to be compulsory for any multinational
executive dealing with other cultures, and also for workers moving into new
cultures," she says. "Indians in the US, for example, sometimes allow
themselves to be bullied." She explained that this is because salaries are
lower, and they are working in some marginalised part of the company and feel
they can’t say anything. "They can’t be productive in these circumstances.
They can be very timid, and need to be taught how to be more culturally
India has a different concept of bullying according to Araoz.
"Behaviour such as raising your voice is not interpreted in the same way
as in America. In many family-run businesses the head is seen as a benevolent
dictator who tells you what you should be doing – although this would have been
tolerated more in the past than today." As a result of this and other
socio-economic factors, bullying litigation is non-existent.
In Japan, where there is a strong corporate hierarchy similar to India’s,
complications can arise when dealing with Westerners. The Japanese have a great
sense of saving face and pride, are unable to express their feelings and are
ultra sensitive to domination, but they don’t show it in a way Westerners
"There are nine ways of saying ‘yes’ in Japanese, and seven of saying
‘no’. When they perceive they are being bullied they may seem to say yes and do
nothing," explains Araoz. "The Japanese mindset is attuned to
courtesy and sensibility, so the way Americans speak can be perceived as
dominating, ordering, or bullying."
What policy decisions to make
"Many companies don’t want to know about the problem. They are too
frightened," says anti-bullying writer Tim Field, author of UK website www.successunlimited.co.uk.
"They have to recognise signs of dysfunction. It is a serial offence in
the majority of cases I process, and the bully is often very convincing."
Bullying is particularly difficult for HR departments to deal with because
it is an issue between employees and requires care so as not to assume guilt on
either side – as well as avoiding being more sympathetic to the ‘victim’
because the complaint is not always justified.
Ann Coles, consultant at employment law specialist Fox Williams, says:
"It is very difficult for HR departments to deal with because it is as if
both sides are on trial. The ‘victim’ may be suffering from stress but the
person who is accused will also find it a harrowing experience. There is
potential for an employer to lose both sets of employees. You have to be fair,
neutral and independent."
She adds: "It has an enormous cost to the reputation of both victim and
perpetrator – people may lose their jobs. I’ve seen instances where the person
accused was not guilty, the accusation was a means of getting rid of someone
who was a threat. In ambitious companies accusing people of bullying may be a
There are two main strategies a company can follow to pre-empt bullying in
the workplace: draw up a bullying policy and train their employees in
appropriate action and in teambuilding, or hire a company to start up an
Employer Assistance Programme.
"A written policy is essential, it makes clear what acceptable
standards are," says Field. "It gives the employer the aegis to deal
with the issue in the absence of a legal statement. It has to be more than
words on paper, with a willingness to carry it through."
Ann Bevitt, partner and employment law specialist at Morrison &
Foerster, agrees. "It is essential to have a policy in place so employees
know what they should and should not be doing. If companies have some
precautions, and have taken all reasonable steps to stop something, they can’t
be found liable in the UK"
Namie’s campaign against workplace bullying in the US emphasises the need to
involve all stakeholders in policy drafting – from employees to HR department,
union reps and management.
Training programmes that encourage teambuilding could offer a way of
avoiding bullying. Rhoda Frindell Green, a New York City-based organisational
psychologist and consultant to companies on HR issues, uses the Myers Briggs
Type Indicator questionnaire, which measures personal preferences and different
work styles. She then gets team members to discuss the results, and uses it to
show why people who have different ways of working can be equally effective.
"It shows there is another way to work. This person can make a
contribution," explains Green.
Namie, who has also worked on anti-bullying policies and training, believes
this is essential – "otherwise employers tend to make the target solve his
or her own problem" he says.
"In domestic violence it is considered illegal and immoral so we
outlawed it, but with bullying this has not happened." But, he adds, the
company’s willingness to stamp out the bully is limited. "It says: ‘do you
mean our regional manager Bob would be affected if he was a repeat offender?’
It doesn’t want to let go of its right to veto whatever the company has decided
Employee Assistance Programmes
Designed to create a lifeline for distressed employees, the Employee
Assistance Programmes offer access to an impartial third party for anonymous
counselling and assistance. Companies which run EAPs should be fully informed
about any policy the particular company has taken towards bullying and
occupational health. Jane Carrington, managing director of Right CoreCare which
runs EAPs for several companies in the UK, points out that bullying can be a
question of perception, esteem, or the way the company is being run or changed.
She says an important aspect of the work is that it preserves employee
"Only if the individual agrees can we reveal their identity. We work
with them to rebuild strategies to go back into work."
The advantage of having an outsider is that they do not have the same
loyalties as someone within a company, and the employee is more likely to discuss
problems when confidentiality is guaranteed before getting to crisis point.
"It is also advantageous to the company as the procedures will then
seem fairer to all sides, and it has an informed monitor on its personnel.
Carrington says: "If you get a lot of calls for the same problems to do
with the same manager we would highlight that to the personnel manager. Again
we have to make sure it is a trend."
Another good reason to set up an EAP is that in the UK ~Judge Lady Justice
Hale recently ruled that an EAP might constitute a legal defence for a company
accused of allowing bullying.
Not everyone is sure that an EAP is enough, however. Anti-bullying author
Field says: "In theory it is a good idea, but it depends on the attitudes
of employers. Some use it as a cover and do it for good PR. It needs to come
from a genuine desire to produce a healthy, happy employee."
Beyond the EAP
Coles says that a company may need to go beyond written policy and EAPs to
change the company culture.
"It needs to be proactive and have management training dealing with
macho management culture, to be firm on this and make it clear this is not
acceptable. It must also give illustrations of what this culture looks like.
This way it can get in before their managers turn into ‘bullies’."
Carrington stresses that any anti-bullying policy needs to go to the heart
of the organisation’s culture. "The culture is important, it should be
people-centred and ethical, and people want opportunities to be creative,"
Bullying: the steps employees should take
– The first stage in any bullying
problem should be the ‘victim’ trying to sort the problem out with the
perpetrator, before taking it to a complaint stage, says Dr Rhoda Frindell
Green, a New York City-based organisational psychologist and consultant to
companies on HR issues. She has often given advice to employees about how to
deal with problems, and she divides bullying issues into three categories –
when the bully is:
If you are the target you need to go to the other person and
ask for some time to talk – say, half an hour. You call the meeting and your
opening statement should be something such as "Here is what I need, to do
the best possible job for you. I could do a better job for you if I get ‘X’
from you. I need to get to do this or that in a meeting, and need you not to
sent me those biting e-mails, or I need you to call me and give me this
information because I feel isolated". This is a way of getting things
straightened out. Let’s assume the boss says "Yes, fine, I didn’t realise
I was doing this, I apologise". If a week later the boss is still doing
the same thing, you go back in and say in a more light-hearted way, "Uh
oh, its happening again", giving them another chance to change it. This
sometimes changes the relationship and the bullying stops.
The employee has choices. He or she can discuss it the problem
with management, but first should try to negotiate. In the worst case they can
request a transfer or resign.
2) Staff member who reports to you/
You call them in and say: "This is not acceptable
behaviour, this is a warning." If it is a staff member you say: "If
this continues you risk losing your job", witha vendor "If this
continues you risk losing a client".
3) A colleague on an equal footing
Go to lunch with them and say: "We sometimes interact well
and sometimes don’t. What you did is not beneficial to our relationship. What
Suffering in silence is not what I am recommending at any
level. It takes some courage to address bullying.
Anti-bullying: nine-point action
The Campaign against Workplace
Bullying provides a comprehensive nine-point guide on the website www.bullybusters.org, This is an
adapted, shortened version. It:
– Needs to state what bullying is with concrete examples. This
should include verbal assaults as well as other misconduct. Anne Coles says:
"A good policy needs to give some illustrations of what might amount to
bullying – undermining, for example. It needs to be made clear that this is not
– Must show what would give rise to an investigation
– Will state how the investigation should be carried out. This
should be in a way that employees consider fair, probably using an outside
– Should allow for the immediate separation of plaintiff and
defendant in a way that does not punish either
– Should require documentation of damages to the claimant
including any impact on health or purse
– Must state the time within which a response should be made to
– Must state what will happen if bullying is found – depending
on the gravity of the offence, from public apology right through to severance
– Should be followed up with training so that people are aware
of the policy
– May need an anti-retaliation clause so that any subsequent
bullying is seen as a separate case
The International Labour Organisation’s anti-bullying report
Australian Workplace Bullying Taskforce report, March 2002
UK-based anti-bullying website
US-based anti-bullying website
Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace by the London Chamber of Commerce
www.londonchamber.co.uk – look
for link to report May 2000
Cultural awareness consultancy run by Zareen Karani Araoz
The EU’s next four-year plan for health and safety at work
The Irish Health and Safety Authority’s code of practice on the prevention
of bullying in the workplace
South African anti-bullying website