Five Costs of Bullying (“Too Nice” Costs as Well)

True: “A measure of a man is what he does with power.” Plato 

Sadly, not always true: “Pulling someone down will never help you reach the top.” – Unknown

Most of us have experienced or have read about situations where an individual’s rise to the top is peppered with shoving others aside or down.

OK, workplaces aren’t spas but they also aren’t boxing rings. True leaders should be sensitive to and relentless in promoting activities and behaviors that promote the right outcomes, and removing impediments that detract from those outcomes.

There is a cost of niceness: The cost of letting individual poor performance linger is minimally resentment among good performers who have to compensate by working longer or harder, at most customer dissatisfaction that costs business. The cost of letting a long-term vendor slide on SLAs is wasting the company’s money.

There is a cost at the other end of the spectrum – the cost of tolerating or ignoring bullies in the workplace, which costs billions to US businesses each year. Costs include:

  1. Fear of failure. If mistakes are repeatedly met with yelling, swearing, finger-pointing, door-slamming or other inappropriate behavior, those being ConflictPicbullied will spend their time hiding issues and mistakes, which will lead to quality and delivery problems: waste, rework, dissatisfaction. This is a negative spiral for an organization.
  2. Low employee engagement. If people are focused on avoiding bullying, they are not focused on what’s most important – making positive contributions, collaborating with transparency, working towards delighting customers.
  3. Stress-related absences/illnesses. Per the Mayo Clinic, stress has negative impacts on behavior, body and mood including lack of motivation and focus, headache, and alcohol abuse. There is enough everyday stress we all have to deal with (deadlines, complex problems, personal concerns) without unnecessary stress. Bullying causes unnecessary stress. 
  4. Spread of bullying. If bullies are in positions of power, and their behavior goes unchecked, this will become part of the culture and others will adopt the behavior. The negative impacts and costs will increase, including talent turnover. As it is oft said, people usually leave bosses, not companies. 
  5. Restructuring costs. Moving problem people around just moves the problem – like deck chairs on the Titanic. Whether poor performers, “too nice” managers, or bullies, true leaders have the guts and grit to deal with impediments – not shuffle them around.

Bullies often go undetected by their managers and leaders. They are often smart people who don’t bully upwards. Other than employee surveys, what can top leaders do? 

Preventive: Educate, communicate and walk the talk. Ask HR to include education as part of standard employee training. Check your own behavior. Hold skip levBullyDeftnel meetings with teams and individuals. Make sure all departments have performance metrics that are regularly reported, including talent turnover, and make it clear that you are interested in all potential root causes of low achievement including treatment of employees.


Eradication: If bullying is happening, stop it. True leaders don’t tolerate being overly nice at the expense of business results; they shouldn’t tolerate being unnecessarily mean either. Seek the middle ground. Intolerance of bullying does not mean that toughness and firmness are replaced by saccharine niceties. Eradication of bullying is not only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. 

True leaders want to minimize or eradicate all things that present risk to delivery, quality and customer delight. Every organization can find the right spot between the spa and the boxing ring.

Worth considering: 

A CIO who engages well with a Board, and a Board with at least 1 tech-savvy board member are ingredients for success, per this Information Week article.

The talent skills gap continues to grow. A 2018 study from Korn Ferry indicates that by 2030, the IT skills gap will reach 4.3 million, or 59 times Alphabet’s (parent company of Google) entire workforce.




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