No Jerks Allowed! The Case Against Workplace Bullying

Trends Report cites bullying as a major psychological health issue in the workplace -- much more so than you may think
Feb 22, 2013 10:00 AM ET
Workplace bullying is much more widespread than many people thought and can quickly erode employee engagement

Workforce and Diversity Blog by Rachel Permuth, Ph.D.

For my entire career I have been working in a role that involves keeping people healthy – and most of those jobs have been in corporate wellness, either as a researcher or an actual director of employee health.

The mental and emotional health of employees is just as critical to me as their physical health. So believe me, when I hear of those being the target of a workplace bully, no one is more concerned than I am. Many people suffer anxiety, weight gain and disruption to the family at home.

According to the The Workplace Bullying Institute, most targets of this behavior possess some sort of “threat” to the bully.  Targets are generally more liked, are more socially adept, and have higher emotional intelligence than their intimidator.

Targeted individuals also may have more technical prowess, and be more ethical and honest.  However, the bullied tend to be non-confrontational as well.  This characteristic may harm the target greatly because the stress from the situation becomes internalized, creating mental and physical problems.

Fortunately, I am now at a good company that will not tolerate this behavior.  Sodexo has some best practices I think could help other companies to mitigate bullying behavior in the workplace.  For instance, Sodexo is well known for its Diversity and Inclusion efforts and in fact, these efforts are a cornerstone of how the company does business.

The company’s efforts are centered on educating employees about the core value of inclusion and the conscious and unconscious behaviors that can lead to an unhealthy environment.  Courses relating to identifying and preventing micro inequities, providing constructive feedback, and leveraging diversity of thought and inclusion of people are embedded in the curriculum of the Get Live! management onboarding program.

Sodexo’s Employee Network Groups also help educate employees about issues of culture, race, sexual orientation, disabilities and a multi-generational workplace and help foster a culture of inclusion to prevent some of the bullying fueled by particular biases.

When we were writing this year’s Sodexo Workplace Trends Report, psychological health in the workplace emerged as a top driver of employee engagement, we learned that bullying can happen to anyone.

To those who have been bullied, there is definitely hope for you.  I would urge you to check out the Workplace Bullying Institute’s website or the Civility Partners website..

I suggest that other companies look to broaden their definitions of inclusion as a mainstay of employee engagement, and have more inclusive and open workplaces that tackle this problem.  Don’t forget, evidence of bullying in the workplace is not just anecdotal.  Look at turnover in your department, pay special attention to absenteeism rates, and lower productivity and morale.  These are quantifiable outcomes that could be signs of someone causing trouble.

Educate yourself: Download a copy of our 2013 Sodexo Workplace Trends Report and join the conversation at our Workplace Experience Group on LinkedIn.


Rachel Permuth, PhD, is the principal researcher and behavioral scientist for Sodexo’s “Innovations 2 Solutions” team.