Numerous studies have confirmed that the relationship between an employee and their immediate supervisor is the biggest predictor of staff turnover in a workplace. When there’s an abusive manager around, good people leave – even when attractive pay, job satisfaction and chances for promotion are present.

A workplace bully is the ultimate killer of staff retention. People don’t leave a job – they leave a manager. The opposite also applies – supportive managers who foster mutual respect attract better talent and save a business time, money and the need to constantly replace fed-up employees.

Want to identify hidden pockets of bullying in your organisation? Take a good, hard look at your staff retention figures, especially after there’s been a manager change.

The intimidating ‘my way or the highway’ leadership style is a recipe for disaster and results in employees who are incapable of doing their best work. How can they, when ongoing harassment has left them angry, distracted, afraid and emotionally confused?

Emotionally distressed employees make more mistakes, are more likely to be absent due to stress and are more prone to workplace injuries. Associate Professor Bill Sutton of Stanford University determined that workplace productivity can decline as much as 40% when workers have to cope with the distractions of bullying. Think about that figure for a moment – can your business afford that kind of epic loss?

In places where leaders turn a blind eye to bullying, a self-perpetuating cycle often occurs:

(a) A highly skilled employee leaves as a direct result of bullying

(b) They’re replaced by someone who must be trained up to a similar level

(c) The bully gets even more frustrated, leading to more heavy-handed behaviour

As a business leader, if you’re shuffling bullying into the too-hard basket, failing to recognise it when it occurs or neglecting to take strong and immediate action to combat it, you’re part of the problem. Bullies are opportunists. They thrive in environments where strong leadership is absent.

So how can you become a more effective anti-bullying leader in your workplace?

  • Set clear bullying definitions so there’s no confusion about boundaries
  • Make worker health, well-being and happiness a priority
  • Provide a simple system for employees to report bullying incidents
  • Recognise that the most effective way to stamp out bullying is by changing the culture of an organisation
  • Have specific, well-defined consequences for bullying in your company policy – and have the courage to enforce them
  • Promote a climate of trust where employees at all levels can express concerns freely without fear of reprisal (too often, reporting a bullying incident only makes life worse for the target)
  • Commit to taking action against unacceptable behaviours immediately – delays only help the bully
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy to bullying of any kind

Choosing to do nothing about workplace bullying is leadership failure – and from a cost-benefit perspective, there’s no upside to keeping a serial bully around.

Please share with like-minded colleagues who can benefit from my insights and follow me on LinkedIn. I am passionate about raising awareness of the effects of bullying and helping people to break the silence.

If you would like to book me for a training course or speaking event, please get in touch.

Jessica Hickman is a professional member of these associations: