Consequences of Workplace Bullying

This is the third section of Bernie Althofer’s article on ‘Workplace Bullying being a National Disgrace’. Bernie is the Managing Director of EGL I Assessments, specialists in assessing, identifying and managing workplace bullying. To read the previous section of Bernie’s article, please visit: Workplace Bullying’s Negative Impact on Safety.  You may also benefit from getting a copy of Bernie’s book: Resolving Workplace Bullying by visiting the EGL I Assessments website.


Resolving Workplace BullyingWorkplace bullying incidents have the potential to negatively impact on individual and corporate reputations.  Some individuals who are subjected to workplace bullying may find the barriers that exist make it harder for them to report the incident, let alone get an outcome they are satisfied with. 
Some may be confronted with a cone of silence where organisations and work colleagues take a dim view of whistleblowers or those seeking to right workplace wrongs.  Whilst some may suffer in silence for some period of time, the full impact or cost of bullying might never be known if they are not encouraged or required to report.

It should be understood that whilst some individuals take action immediately, others may think about the issues for some time.  Some victims may be so traumatised by the circumstances that simple processes like dealing with the paperwork become overwhelming and increase the negative stress levels.  As a result, the way in which they respond can have a negative impact on their claim process, and they may ultimately do something or take some action that impact on their personal reputation.

Data collection

There is no national data collection system in place so the full extent or cost of bullying is not known.  Projections on averages seem to be one way of working out costs.  It is also problematic for States and Territories wanting to appear proactive. 

Informed decision making is affected as the lack of data means that interventions can be developed on data obtained from a minority.  Surveys can be conducted involving small data collection groups.  Silo approaches used in the prevention, detection and resolution of workplace bullying sometimes mean that critical interpretation regarding the level of risk and exposure being faced by an organisation is overlooked.

The direct and indirect costs can mean that the intangible costs are not captured, not understood and therefore not considered as part of the total cost caused by the bully.

Who would think to capture costs related to resources, meeting rooms, computer storage space, stationery and the like?  After all, aren’t these just abundant office supplies to be used?  If they weren’t being used in the pursuit of bullying incidents, perhaps some costs could be saved along the way.

Data collection models should be carefully considered.  After all, who wants to be so busy collecting data that they don’t have time to do the work for which they are paid.

Some of the literature discusses average costs, but it is hard to know how this should be determined when no two allegations are identical.


Workplace bullying is a complex situation requiring complex solutions.

However, as with any change there is a need for a change in attitude about the short, medium and long term impacts on the physical and psychological wellbeing of individuals and organisations.  There has to be a national commitment to change.  Successful change has to be driven from the top and the positive messages communicated consistently across the Nation.

Just as other forms of physical and psychological hazards are treated as a priority, the same rules have to apply in the way organisations respond to workplace bullying.

Sometimes organisations may use financial data as a way of setting benchmarks against which performance can be measured.  Imagine if your organisation was able to create change by highlighting increases or decreases in the financial cost of bullying.

Financial impact

The financial impact of workplace bullying across the Nation has to be considered as a critical area of improvement.

Ad hoc and inconsistent approaches, whilst providing some relief for those involved, may not provide a holistic, long term approach to problem solving.

It might also be symptomatic that whilst there is no national data collection process in place to give an accurate understanding of workplace bullying, the lack of co-ordination or financial recording of costs within individual work units contributes to a lack of organisational responsiveness.

If the average cost of one workplace bullying incident is $20,000 and there are a number of such incidents across an organisation, how does an organisation recognise the risk expose when the collective cost of several incidents is not recorded? 

There is an inconsistent and perhaps inaccurate process in place to measure the financial cost of bullying.  Some measures take prevalence into consideration and some estimates may not consider all of the indirect costs.

As far as can be determined, there is no national model that can be used to cost workplace bullying, although there are some excellent publications that can be used to form a framework under which costs could be captured.

It does appear that costs of bullying can range from as low as $60 per person per annum to as high as $4690 per person per annum.  Some of these costs have been calculated on a prevalence rate as low as 3.5%, whilst others (the high rate) do not give a prevalence rate.

Whichever way you do the calculation, the figures are almost unbelievable; hence the reason why I indicated it is a national disgrace.  If you are an executive officer, wouldn’t you like some certainty about the degree of accuracy?  That is not to say that the dollar costs indicated in the previous paragraph are inaccurate. 

Hence the imperative to generate a model that can predict with a higher degree of accuracy, all the direct and indirect costs associated with workplace bullying.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (4)

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  1. Stephen Pearce says:

    I Believe this is a very good article every employer should take a look this way they will understand and they can assist their employees to understand

  2. Despite all the publicity about the links between workplace bullying and the legislation and Codes of Practice, it still amazes me that some people still don’t understand or believe there is a connection. As I mentioned at a presentation yesterday, the death of a young person in Victoria and the prosecution of the business owner and some employees directly implicated in the situation should be a wake up call to every other business irrespective of their size. Hard questions have to be asked, systems and processes have to be reviewed, even the relatively ‘minor’ incident has to be investigated, findings have to implemented, performance management systems have to be used effectively to create change in workplace behaviours, and systems and processes have to be put in place to capture data regarding direct and indirect costs. Without this, workplace bullying will not be treated seriously, and individuals will continue to die, others will be prosecuted and fined. Everyone in the public and private sector has to understand the link between action, reaction and consequence. It is also just possible that there is real link between workplace bullying and the corruption resistance of an organisation. Look at some issues regarding deviance and in particular comments regarding the use of specific types of language, slurs, comments regarding sexuality, abusive and obscene language instead of common perceptions that deviance only relates to murders, rapes, domestic violence, pornography and the like. If organisations want to protect their reputation and the reputation of those within, key stakeholders need to take up the challenge and think outside the square regarding new and emerging issues.

  3. Why is there so much complacency about workplace bullying? There are numerous publications warning of the dangers so what does it take to turn the tide? What price do people put on their personal or organisational reputation? How many people would be prepared to go to a Court, Commission or Tribunal and put their reputation on the line, particularly if there was even a slim chance it could be shown that they had not actively prevented workplace bullying? Two weeks ago, I had a manager admit that he had only just realised that workplace bullying was a health and safety issue. Still, only this week, an employee in another organisation said that the workplace bully was in charge of the bullying policy. My guess is that people don’t believe that they will ever be involved in a workplace bullying incident. It is not a matter of if, but when you are involved. If you are not prepared, it will be too late when someone starts firing questions at you. How are you going to respond?

  4. How would you like you organisation or company brand to be associated with workplace bullying? Could your business survive one, two or more allegations of workplace bullying? If you are a small business with less than 20 employees, chances are that a prosecution will put you out of business. If you are a large organisation, you might be able to absorb some of the costs, but you will probably want to get some money back. In the private sector, you might pass the costs onto the consumers, but in the public sector, the costs get passed on to the taxpayers. Either way, that is hardly fair or just. Maybe you conduct an audit to find out what your risk exposure to workplace bullying really is. Don’t wait for the surprise.

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