Category Archives: bullying

How Much Are Caustic Workers Costing You?

There’s been a lot of research dedicated to studying the havoc wreaked by jerks at work.

Some of these studies focus on the noxious influence that abusive, bullying bosses have on their teams, and what employees can do to cope with an out-of-control supervisor.

Some find that being a bit boorish can actually work to one’s advantage in certain situations, and share advice for recognizing when the circumstances call for flipping the jerk switch.

Some even provide tips on how to self-correct if you are the work jerk, or are in danger of becoming one.

A new working paper from Harvard Business School, however, is taking a more pragmatic look at the workplace jerk, attempting to put a price—in actual dollars and cents—on what employees who are destructive in one way or another can cost an organization.

Spoiler alert: It’s steep.

Economist Dylan Minor and Michael Housman, chief analytics officer at Cornerstone OnDemand, explored a dataset of close to 60,000 workers across 11 different firms. The goal of the ongoing study, the authors say, is to document various aspects of workers’ characteristics and circumstances that lead them to engage in “toxic” behavior, defined by the paper as conduct that’s harmful to an organization’s property or people.

“I wanted to look at workers who are harmful to an organization either by damaging the property of the company—theft, stealing, fraud—or other people within the company through bullying, workplace violence or sexual harassment,” Minor recently told the Harvard Gazette.

Housman and Minor, a visiting assistant professor of business administration at HBS, also analyzed the relationship between productivity and the ripple effect that a toxic employee has on his or her peers.

While finding those defined as toxic are “much more productive” than their less-troublesome colleagues, the authors determined that the former actually diminish the productivity of those around them, and often drive co-workers to leave organizations faster and more frequently, generating sizable turnover and training costs. Ultimately, these caustic workers are so damaging from a financial standpoint that “avoiding them or rooting them out delivers twice the value to a company that hiring a superstar performer does,” according to the Gazette.

More specifically, the paper states that, “while a top 1 percent worker might return $5,303 in cost savings to a company through increased output, avoiding a toxic hire will net an estimated $12,489.”

And that figure, the authors say, doesn’t even include the money that could be saved by avoiding the litigation, regulatory penalties or decreased productivity that a devious or disruptive employee may leave in his or her wake.

These bad seeds come in all shapes and sizes, of course. But the paper identifies a few key predictors to help find them lurking within your workforce.

Toxic workers, for example, tend to demonstrate very high levels of self-regard or selfishness and overconfidence.

As Minor points out, this kind of hubris can lead one to take unnecessary chances, riding high on the belief that he or she is too smart to ever get caught engaging in questionable conduct, or is too valuable to be hit with any real consequences if that day does eventually come.

This paper also reiterates an uncomfortable truth unearthed in past studies: These folks are often high performers, which means that many employers grudgingly tolerate their antics rather than let them go. But few studies have attempted to quantify the actual cost of keeping them on, according to Minor.

And, while many managers may be more apt to look the other way when the offending employee is, say, putting up gaudy sales numbers, an organization literally can’t afford to ignore—and, in effect, reward—corrosive workers’ bad behavior any longer, he says.

“The worst thing to do is to not do anything, which happens a lot, unfortunately.”

Can Abusive Bosses Be Stopped?

In recent years, a lot of oxygen and ink has been used up trying to find a successful way to deal with the damage done by abusive supervisors.

Will giving boorish bosses a taste of their own medicine help them see the error of their ways, or just exacerbate an already tense situation? Is combating bad behavior with kindness the way to go, or does taking that tack only lead to compassionate co-workers being seen as easy marks?

Well, a study that’s set to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that neither strategy is all that effective, and we might need to start looking for a new approach altogether.

Over a six-month period, a team that included researchers from the University of Notre Dame surveyed 244 employees from several organizations about their bosses’ behavior as well as their own.

Not surprisingly, the authors found that simply trying to avoid a superior who engages in offensive behavior—or, conversely, attempting to fight aggression with aggression—did little to discourage an obnoxious supervisor from acting obnoxiously.

Another result, however, seems to “clash with common sense,” Charlice Hurst, assistant professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and co-author of the study, recently told the Washington Post.

The investigators undertook this research with the hypothesis that showing ill-mannered managers empathy and generosity could help curtail their unruly behavior in the future.

But, the survey found abusive bosses “didn’t respond to followers being positive and compassionate, and doing things to be supportive and helpful,” according to Hurst.

In the paper, Hurst and colleagues suggest that a churlish manager may simply look at a subordinate’s extra effort—an unsolicited offer to help share the supervisor’s workload, for example—as part of the employee’s job, and thus feels no obligation to treat him or her any differently.

So, offering a helping hand is met with apathy. The passive-aggressive route leads nowhere. Responding in kind only stokes the hostile manager’s fire. What’s an employee (and an employer) to do?

This paper hasn’t exactly answered that question, but Hurst does give some advice on how not to handle such a scenario.

“I think companies have to create cultures where abusive supervisors are not acceptable, and they have to implement policies for employees to report being bullied,” she told the Post. “For individuals, you’re only going to make your situation worse if you try to retaliate or try to withdraw or hunker down.”

Naturally. Companies should already be working hard to create and maintain such an environment, and should be encouraging employees to step forward when they’ve been subjected to poor treatment at the hands of a supervisor. And, while this research may not provide a definitive solution to the problem, it certainly offers more evidence of the type of havoc that a belligerent boss can wreak on your organization.

Catching (and Spreading) the Rudeness Bug

It’s said that laughter is contagious, right? Well, apparently, the same is the case for rudeness.

ThinkstockPhotos-476962485According to a study out of the University of Florida, titled Catching Rudeness Is Like Catching a Cold: The Contagion Effects of Low-Intensity Negative Behaviors, “encountering rude behavior at work makes people more likely to perceive rudeness in later interactions. … That perception makes them more likely to be impolite in return, spreading rudeness like a virus.”

Trevor Foulk, a doctoral student in management at UF’s Warrington College of Business Administration and the lead author of the study, puts it this way: “When you experience rudeness, it makes rudeness more noticeable. You’ll see more rudeness even if it’s not there.

“Part of the problem is that we are generally tolerant of these behaviors, but they’re actually really harmful,” he continued. “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.”

Tracking 90 graduate students who practiced negotiation with classmates, the researchers found that those who rated their initial negotiation partner as rude were more likely to be rated as rude by a subsequent partner. In other words, they ended up passing along the first partner’s rudeness. The study found the effect continued even when a week elapsed between the first and second negotiations.

In a separate test, the researchers also found that people who witnessed rudeness were more likely to be rude to others. “When study participants watched a video of a rude workplace interaction, then answered a fictitious customer email that was neutral in tone, they were more likely to be hostile in their responses than those who viewed a polite interaction before responding,” a press release on the research explained.

So what do these findings (published in the Journal of Applied Psychology) mean for employers? Foulks points to the need to take incivility more seriously.

“You might go your whole career and not experience abuse or aggression in the workplace, but rudeness also has a negative effect on performance,” he pointed out. “It isn’t something you can just turn your back on. It matters.”

Bullying Touches All Races and Roles

467291571 -- bullying2A fairly comprehensive — and concerning — report on bullying was released by CareerBuilder on Thursday, showing office bullying knows no partiality when it comes to who the victims are.

The survey of 3,372 U.S. full-time, private-sector employees, conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Chicago-based CareerBuilder, shows 28 percent of respondents have felt bullied at work and 19 percent of them left their jobs because of it.

More importantly, while the prevalence of bullying is higher among certain minorities and workers with lower incomes, the study finds workers in management roles, those with post-secondary education and other workforce segments are not immune.

“One of the most surprising takeaways from the study was that bullying impacts workers of all backgrounds regardless of race, education, income and level of authority within an organization,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.

“Many of the workers who have experienced this don’t confront the bully or elect not to report the incidents,” she says, “which can prolong a negative work experience that leads some to leave their jobs.”

Here’s how the percentages of respondents who say they are currently being bullied break down in the study:

Job Level

  • Management (manager, director, team leader, vice president and above) – 27 percent
  • Professional and technical – 21 percent
  • Entry-level/administrative and clerical– 26 percent

Highest Level of Education Attained

  • High-school graduate – 28 percent
  • Associate’s degree – 21 percent
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher – 23 percent

Compensation Level

  • Earning less than $50,000 – 28 percent
  • Earning $50,000 or more – 19 percent

And here’s what I found to be a pretty interesting breakdown as well, the varying ways bullying victims felt bullied on the job:

  • Falsely accused of mistakes he/she didn’t make – 43 percent,
  • Comments were ignored, dismissed or not acknowledged – 41 percent,
  • A different set of standards or policies was used for the worker – 37 percent,
  • Gossip was spread about the worker – 34 percent,
  • Constantly criticized by the boss or co-workers – 32 percent,
  • Belittling comments were made about the person’s work during meetings – 29 percent,
  • Yelled at by the boss in front of co-workers – 27 percent,
  • Purposely excluded from projects or meetings – 20 percent,
  • Credit for his/her work was stolen – 20 percent, and
  • Picked on for personal attributes (race, gender, appearance, etc.) – 20 percent.

And you might find this surprising. I did. Comparing the public and private sectors, workers in government were nearly twice as likely to report being bullied (47 percent) than those in the corporate world (28 percent).

Meanwhile, as David Shadovitz reported back in July, the nation’s road to anti-bullying legislation at the state level — starting with Tennessee — appears to be a slow one, despite the fact that 28 states have introduced such legislation this year.

In fact, as Mark McGraw posted on this blog a little later that month, one of those states — New Hampshire — went in the opposite direction, when its governor — Maggie Hassan — vetoed the bill pending there because its definition of abusive conduct was too broad.

The silver lining there, McGraw says, is that both the governor and the bill’s sponsor acknowledge workplace bullying is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

My guess is the people in that camp far outweigh those questioning the problem’s seriousness. CareerBuilder’s certainly in the former. So what’s it gonna take to get more laws on the books?

 

A Setback for Anti-Bullying Efforts?

bullyEarlier this month, HRE Editor David Shadovitz reported on Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s signing of the Healthy Workplace Act, which made the Volunteer State the first in the Union to pass legislation aimed at putting an end to on-the-job bullying.

In that piece, Shadovitz pointed out that 28 states have introduced anti-bullying legislation this year. Experts, he said, predict other states will soon take similar measures, adding that New York and Massachusetts appear the most likely to pass anti-bullying laws applying to private-sector employers. (The Tennessee law only affects the practices of state and local government agencies.)

While some states may soon follow in Tennessee’s footsteps, it seems that New Hampshire took a step in the opposite direction this week.

On Monday, Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a bill geared toward protecting New Hampshire state employees from abusive work environments, saying the bill was “well-intentioned but unworkable,” according to the Concord Monitor.

The measure—which state lawmakers passed after current and former state workers said they had experienced bullying behavior at work—would have required state departments and agencies to develop policies to address harassment, the Monitor reports.

Hassan, however, found the legislation’s definition of abusive conduct to be overly broad, which she says could make even routine employee interactions potential causes of action. The bill “also attempts to legislate politeness, manners and the interpersonal relationships of co-workers,” she said, contending the law would lead to a significant spike in lawsuits and subsequently hamper productivity.

Conversely, bill sponsor Rep. Diane Schuett feels a failure to put anti-bullying laws in place yields roughly the same end result, with respect to employee output.

“[Bullying] undermines the efficiency within state government if you end up with one or two employees being harassed on the job, either by another employee or a supervisor, and you end up with the entire agency being aware of it and feeling like they have to pick sides.”

There might well be some truth in both of those statements. Maybe the silver lining in the New Hampshire scenario is that the bill—which state lawmakers could revive by overriding the Governor’s veto—is at least on the table, with each side acknowledging that workplace bullying is a real and pervasive problem that must be addressed in some way, even if the legislation’s workability may be at issue.

Harassment by Association

legalCan an employee’s connection to someone in a protected class be the basis for a successful harassment lawsuit?

It may be, according to the California appeals court ruling that allows former firefighter David Derr to proceed with his claim that a supervisor regularly harassed him for defending his lesbian daughter.

Derr, employed by the Kern County Fire Department for 29 years, claims James Rummell—who became department captain and Derr’s supervisor near the end of Derr’s tenure—made anti-gay remarks in his presence sometime during Rummell’s first year as supervisor. Upon learning Derr’s daughter was gay, Rummell allegedly started to regularly harass him about his daughter’s homosexuality.

According to court records, the harassing behavior reportedly included comments about how gays were “led in that direction” or had experienced childhood traumas that “twisted” them, as well as emails sent to Derr from Rummell’s wife saying his acceptance of his daughter’s homosexuality was a “blatant opposition to the commands of God.” Court records indicate Derr told Rummell he “did not want to hear any more such commentary,” and reiterated that he had a gay family member.

Derr was eventually granted a shift change, but Rummell allegedly continued to stay behind after his own shifts ended in order to further harass Derr, who began to show physical symptoms of stress including insomnia, chronic diarrhea and headaches. Derr attended counseling, but the fire department’s employee assistance program terminated the sessions after three appointments, reportedly informing Derr that “no further treatment was available” and that he should “suck it up” with regard to handling his treatment at the hands of Rummell.

Derr ultimately retired in July 2009, citing Rummell’s abuse among the reasons. He subsequently sued the department, claiming harassment. A lower court dismissed Derr’s complaint, but the appeals court decision reversed that ruling.

This state-level decision only applies to California-based companies, but exemplifies a “noticeable trend” in the workplace, says Ron Chapman, Jr., a Dallas-based labor and employment attorney with Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.

“Employees are becoming increasingly assertive, and that includes speaking out against perceived wrongs toward others,” says Chapman. “In other words, even when the employee affected by the alleged misbehavior does not complain, one of his or her co-workers might.”

Employers and HR leaders must react accordingly to protect employees as well as the organization, he says.

Depending on the circumstances, it could be unlawful if the person who complains becomes the target of harassment or retaliation, even if the underlying behavior complained about was directed at someone else. To help avoid liability and promote best practices, human resource professionals should update their policies and training programs to ensure they cover this type of scenario.”

Talk About Your Cyber-Bullying…

… It’s even worse when it’s your boss doing the ugly deeds — at least that’s the story in this Times of India article about an HR executive who finds out that it’s her CEO who has been bad-mouthing her anonymously online.

According to the story, the HR leader became confused when co-workers suddenly were difficult to work with — until her friends told her that someone was posting on a “consumer website” that she frequently slept with co-workers and “spoiled them.”

Acting on her complaint, the policy cyber-crime investigation unit traced the comments to the IP address of her boss, the CEO of an unnamed multinational corporation in Mumbai.

The CEO broke down at the police station. “She found herself in front of the victim, who she could not look in the eye. She even had tears,” the officer said. “In a written apology, she said she was jealous as the victim was getting quick promotions. So, she started writing online posts, the website being one that is visited by private companies, to do background checks on potential recruits. She wanted the management to take note of the posts and initiate action against the victim.”

The CEO was not charged with a crime.

Assuming this is true, it’s a pretty strange story. If a CEO is that unhappy with an employee, she could just terminate — or more deviously and just as disgracefully — sidetrack her promotions or even her career without using the Internet to disparage her reputation.

But it is, yet again, a cautionary tale for HR leaders to make sure they have some social-media policies that provide guidance to workers about what is and what is not acceptable online behavior.

Here’s a recent story Kristen Frasch wrote on HREOnline™ about Setting Boundaries on Social Media, using rulings from the National Labor Relations Board and a report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as guidance.