Helping Organizations with Employee Concern Employers: Book Time With THE FIRM
people working at a table

Adult Bullying Is a Sign that An Employer Has an Obligation to Investigate

Lynch Law Firm, PLLC March 16, 2017

As many as 25 percent of all employees have had direct experience with an adult bully in their workplace. Of this number, a full 61 percent said their superiors did nothing to stop the bullying. This creates many problems for the one being bullied, but the bullying indirectly impacts everyone in the workplace. Many of these situations go unreported until something drastic occurs. As an employer, your role in stopping any bullying behavior in your workplace is an important one that can not be ignored.

Overt vs. Covert Bullying

Overt bullying is easy to recognize. This can include constant confrontations, practical jokes and negative comments about someone. When an employee is being an obvious bully, it often ends in dismissal because it becomes a matter of not being able to ignore. Many times, however, bullying takes a more subtle form. This type of bullying can last for weeks, months and even years without being obvious to anyone other than those involved. It is this covert bullying that can cause the greatest damage to your employees and business.

Covert bullying can take many forms. Sabotaging another employee's work, playing people against each other, inconsistency regarding rules or treatment of employees, constant criticism, passing the blame and many other subtle behaviors. Covert bullying is likely to go on a long time, causing great psychological damage to the victim.

Environments That Encourage Adult Bullying

Personalities of both the one who bullies and the one who gets bullied are factors in adult bullying but studies have found that the work environment has even a greater effect on the situation. Workplaces that increase the chance of bullying include:

  • Low job autonomy

  • Supervisors that show little interest

  • Leaders who feel "above" employees

  • Injustice in leadership

  • Behavior modeled by leaders

In essence, the behavior of management can have a large impact on workplace bullying. It may be impossible to weed out all employees who are prone to being perpetrators or victims of bullying but creating an environment that has a zero-tolerance can be easily created, as can monitoring and training of supervisors.

Impact of Adult Bullying on Employees

Workplace bullying has affected 6.5 million adult workers. Of those, a full 29 percent, or 1.9 million individuals, reported they felt suicidal over a bullying issue. Psychological health of employees is the greatest concern of adult bullying. Employees can become physically ill, anxiety-ridden and even suicidal. The bullying behavior can also have a snowball effect, creating an environment that is uncomfortable for all who work there.

Impact of Bullying on Your Business

Adult bullying not only affects individuals but also makes an impact on your business in general. There have been no official studies that put an exact dollar amount on how much bullying costs a business each year but the results of bullying situations:

  • Lower overall productivity as employees spend more time dealing with the behavior.

  • Create high turnover with the victims eventually looking for different employment.

  • Increases absenteeism as the bullied individual either avoids work or becomes physically/psychologically ill from the situation.

  • Lowers the overall employee morale among all employees who find themselves in the center of a tense work environment.

  • Can result in lawsuits brought on by the bullied individual or the employee's family.

What You Can Do

As the company leader, it is essential that you work toward creating an environment that has no room for adult bullying. This can be done in several ways.

  1. Conduct training for supervisors that gives them the needed tools to lead effectively, fairly and knowledgeably.

  2. Create policies that spell out how everyone is to be treated and provide consequences for anyone who is guilty of bullying behavior.

  3. Listen to employees who come to you regarding a bullying situation. Take action against the bully but also provide counseling and assertiveness training for the victim.

  4. Call in an investigator if you suspect your workplace is experiencing bullying issues and arrange outside mediation if necessary.

Adult bullying is a situation that can cause loss of income, a hostile work environment claim, and even death in victims. The situation can be resolved by leaders who demand a bully-free environment and consistently provide the means to insure it.

Cite this article: Lynch, N. (2017). Adult Bullying is a Sign that an Employer Has an Obligation to Investigate. Available: