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The emotionally unsafe workplace: How bullies, tyrants, and narcissists are hurting your business

Crystal Spraggins, SPHRThe Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, commonly referred to as OSHA, obligates employers to maintain a safe and healthful work environment. OSHA’s website states: “OSHA's mission is to assure safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, commonly referred to as OSHA, obligates employers to maintain a safe and healthful work environment.

OSHA’s website states:

“OSHA’s mission is to assure safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards.”

When most of us think of OSHA, we think hard hats, proper storage and disposal of hazardous substances, and prominently displayed Exit signs. We certainly don’t think about psychological or emotional health, because OSHA doesn’t cover that.

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And more’s the pity, because many employees are regularly abused in their workplaces, and these poor souls could use some protection.

Make no mistake, however. The employers of mistreated workers are taking it on the chin, too. Workplace aggression comes with a huge price tag.

Emotional abuse defined

Healthy Place defines emotional abuse as “any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth.” Among the list of abusive behaviors listed on their website is “unreasonably ordering an individual around; treating an individual like a servant or child,” which is a classic tyrant behavior.

The “hidden” cost of workplace meanies

Listen, I know some are uncomfortable with labels, but bullies, narcissists, and tyrants have earned their moniker fair and square. These are not folks having a bad day. Their unconscionable behavior is persistent, without justification, and highly damaging.

Direct bottom-line costs associated with workplace emotional abuse include:

  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased presenteeism
  • Increased use of medical and disability plans
  • Legal fees
  • Severance payouts to targets
  • Recruiting fees related to increased turnover

One study put the annual employer cost at $250 million.

Keep in mind that the target isn’t the only affected party; witnesses to the abuse also suffer.

Emotional health is nothing to sneeze at

A recent article in Workforce magazine boldly stated: “Mental illness is the workplace’s dirty little secret. Employees want to hide it and employers don’t want to hear about it.”

 

According to the article, mental health conditions costs employers between $80 and $100 billion in lost productivity each year.

While someone who’s become clinically depressed following emotional abuse in the workplace may not have a mental illness per se, the Workforce article remains relevant, because targets of workplace abuse often present to healthcare providers in emotional distress, boasting anxiety, sleep disturbance, irritability, and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and well as the aforementioned depression.

And like anyone experiencing signs of psychological upset, these employees are keenly aware of the stigma attached to mental illness. They may also fear their employer’s hostility toward a claim of emotional distress caused by workplace abuse. This awareness and fear, as well as shame at “allowing” themselves to be abused, prevents some employees from pursuing the help they really need.

What to do?

Employers must resolve to both identify and address abusive behavior at work. If compassion for employees is no incentive, the ginormous associated costs should be.

Employers must also work to remove the stigma of mental illness. It’s absurd in this day and age, with all we know about the mind-body-connection, for employers to deny that sometimes employees will have emotional issues that require attention. There should be no shame in it.

Learn more about aggression in the workplace and how to deal with it with this complementary whitepaper: Incivility and Other Types of Workplace Aggression

Crystal Spraggins
Read more from Crystal

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