Bully Bosses are Bad for the Bottom Line

December, 2017

By Dr. Marc and Marcia Hardy

Most of us have been subjected to bully bosses and have horror stories to tell. Bully bosses are not the kinds of tough bosses that bring out the best in us. They do the opposite. They demean, mock, yell, denigrate, harass, ignore, marginalize and destroy trust, innovation, motivation and creativity. They make us dread going to work at a job that we probably once enjoyed. They cause us to shut down and keep our best ideas to ourselves, or refuse to offer our opinions for fear of repercussion. And for those of us who have options, they cause us to leave.

The financial upshot of this is that an organization’s potential for growth is stymied and becomes stagnant, permeated with an atmosphere of dread and fear. The organization suffers opportunity losses that it is not even aware of because so much innovation and creativity on the part of employees has been buried. Even if an organization is successful, a great deal of innovation, productivity and profitability has been left on the table. Even worse, the good people leave and the poor performers or the mediocre stay, creating an even more undesirable workplace. The result is that new, talented people have to be recruited and trained, which is not only difficult with today’s low unemployment, it is also very costly.

So why are so many bully bosses allowed to exist in our workplaces? Because they tend to get tasks done and goals met, but at great expense to the long-term health of the organization. The leadership often only pays attention to short-term goals and are blind to the destructive effects of bully bosses. They do not bother to find out how employees are being treated or they turn a blind eye because the bully gets results. Additionally, bully bosses learn to manage up well and learn how to manipulate their superiors. It is not until productivity becomes stagnant or harassment charges are filed and valuable people have already left that they finally sit up and take notice. Hopefully this happens before all trust within the organization has disappeared and a positive culture can be re-established.

Studies have shown that bully bosses are a detriment to an organization’s culture, creativity and productivity. In a 2017 journal article by George Smith, “Bullying Versus Creativity: Mutually Exclusive Workplace Behaviors,” he concludes:

“Critical thinking and creative problem solving are requirements for innovation in a variety of sectors, whether business, education, or science. However, a variety of researchers have confirmed that workplace bullying hurts emotional health, psychological health, and even organizational objectives. With the proliferation of research on the topic, one is left wondering why workplace bullying is allowed to flourish in any environment when it has been proven time and again that such leadership is so destructive to employees and their organizations. Nonetheless, for leaders looking to further inspire employees, consider the leadership’s ability to infuse trust and respect into the environment. Without such trust and respect, employees often disengage. For employees who find that a work environment is lackluster at best, reflect on the organization’s record for creating collaborative environments. Such organizations, which lack the ability to develop respectful partnerships and collaborations, may actually just be worth leaving.”

In today’s world of social media, people are now searching for reviews from past and present employees of organizations. There are websites that rate the best and worst places to work. So it is very difficult for a company that supports and condones bully bosses to attract and recruit top talent. And make no mistake, talented, committed, creative and motivated people are what make an organization successful, not the bully bosses who repel them. If we are allowing bully bosses to beat people into submission, then we need to ask the questions, “How many great ideas and how much money are we leaving on the table?” and “Are we willing to destroy the innovative culture of our organization?” The choices are clear, but will organizations heed the call to abolish bully bosses and instead embrace those leaders who create a positive culture where creativity, innovation, productivity and profitability will flourish? For the sake of the long-term health of our organizations, let’s hope so.

Smith, George. “Bullying Versus Creativity: Mutually Exclusive Workplace .” Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal (Society for Science and Education), July 2017: 220-224.

Marc Hardy, Ph.D. is the Director of Nonprofit Certificate Education in the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. He is also a speaker and author of the “Leadership Through Sharing Fire” concept (www.SharingFire.com). He may be contacted at DrMarc@SharingFire.com.

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