It's an iconic saying from a movie, and then Broadway show, that has an outright cult following. It's even the movie quote I chose for the Yeti cup GBS gives to all of team members (fun fact, we all get personalized mugs with our favorite movie or TV show quotes!). I've got a lot of love for Mean Girls, but I don't want to be a "Mean Girl."
Unfortunately, bullying doesn't just exist in the movies... nor does it remain relegated to our collective childhoods. Workplace Bullying is the repeated or ongoing mistreatment of an employee by one or more other employees. For the targeted employee, the abuse is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating in nature, eroding psychological safety in the workplace for those targeted and those witnessing it. In the United States alone, statistics reveal 4 out of 10 employees are actively experiencing it and cases are on the rise.
The Workplace Bullying Institute - because bullying is so prevalent we need an Institute to study it - reports that over 79 million workers have been affected by workplace bullying. In today's climate where bullying behavior has become somewhat celebrated in certain circles, an estimated 6.6 million workers declared themselves perpetrators of workplace bullying or stalking behavior. And lest you think remote work has helped the situation, let me assure you it has not. As outlined in the table below, there is a qualitative difference in the various work types, with remote workers experiencing the highest percentage of bullying.
This disparity is unsurprising. It's generally easier people with unchecked aggression and bully mentalities to harass people online as they don't have the immediate accountability associated with face-to-face interactions. Studies show online harassers not only believe they're less likely to face consequences for their behavior... they actually are less likely to get caught or called out by others for their behavior.
The Bully, the Bullied and the Employer Brand
Online workplace bullying can take many forms, most commonly:
Obviously, none of these are great for employees' mental well-being. Being subjected to these behaviors cause real mental harm and isolates them in your workplace. The org suffers, too. While increased absenteeism is common among bullied with up to 4 times the number of sick days in a month, "presenteeism" is on the rise. Presenteeism is when someone shows up for work, but they aren't really fit to be there. As a result, they have lower productivity (up to a 154% reduction in performance) and display a host of behaviors associated with low psychological safety in the workplace, such as:
For the organization, this behavior impacts more than the targeted individual(s). The ripple effect hits the organization with consequences as well, such as first increased absenteeism followed by the increased attrition of bullied employees and those who witness the behavior. Additionally, bullying behavior in the workplace leads to loss of trust and loyalty, negative culture shifts due to toxic work environments, and poor team dynamics. These things are not only likely to reduce business productivity and profits; they're likely to show up on employee review sites such as Glassdoor, damaging employer brand reputation.
While those working in talent attraction, employer brand and recruitment marketing may not be able to directly put an end to workplace bullying, there are things that should be done. Work with HR and your employee comms team to establish and communicate an Anti-Bullying Policy that encourages open communication, safe reporting (and encourage screenshots of the behavior for reporting with remote workers). Publish this, along with your commitment to zero tolerance, on your career site. Ensure there's a process for handling online complaints on social media and employee review sites. The goals should include acknowledging the seriousness of the complaint and moving the conversation offline for proper reporting. In doing so, you can help your organization demonstrate your commitment to your team's psychological safety on National Pink Day and every other day of the year.