Workplace Bullies and Their Cost

Published: December 11, 2014

Although the 20% “actively disengaged” statistic may not apply to your workplace, chances are you have dysfunctional elements lurking on your team. Most organizations do. It is the nature of being human that negative attitudes, broken personalities, and poor coping skills creep from families into the job site. Usually, it’s subtle and insidious. Businesses are being robbed.

In many organizations, the primary obstacle to effective, collaborative teamwork is a bullying element. Typically, a subgroup representing a small fraction of the full staff becomes entrenched in preventing change to protect their power. Often, the subgroup is comprised of either staff members who are change-resistant or, for whatever reason, fear their power and authority is waning. Such subgroups are usually led by one or two more vocal negative leaders who are able to get others to infect the larger organization with their message.

The message takes many forms but the theme is frequently an “us vs. them” divisiveness that functions to make others feel unsafe, unwelcome, and unappreciated. The outcome is that the majority of the staff has trouble advancing a healthier, more inclusive culture because they are made to fear the social cost they’ll pay for challenging one of the bullies. Sadly, it’s easier to learn to tolerate it than it is to combat the poison.

In simplest terms, it’s theft. A small handful of unhappy “colleagues” subtracts energy from the workplace. This is the value proposition of a healthy, effective team. The less time and effort spent on workplace politics, the greater the focus on the mission of the organization. Neutralize the bullies!

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.