Cyberbullying. Social Bullying.  Peer Pressure Bullying.  The topic of youth bullying has gained a lot of attention over the past several years.  You have probably read the stories and watched the videos of organizations working to end this epidemic that has been plaguing our school systems.  You have probably talked to your children about bullying- the importance of not being a part of it and how to stop it.

What we aren’t talking about though is workplace bullying.  It is no secret that recruiting and retention are massive concerns in the accounting industry today. What is more of a secret, is the number of people who report feeling “bullied” in the workplace.  A large number of adults who are professionals in multiple industries describe workplace bullying as a major problem in their organizations

Here are some statistics, in a survey:

  • One out of five workers were bullied each week
  • 50% of surveyed participants were bystanders, witnessed bullying
  • 22% resigned rather than reporting
  • 5M experienced workplace harassment
  • 25% bullied in previous 6 months
  • 74% bullied at some time in the workplace


Sharlene Chadwick, Australasian College of Health Service Management

With these kinds of startling statistics isn’t it time we start having a conversation?

So how does workplace bullying happen?

There are many reasons for and examples of workplace bullying.  Some of the more common factors that can create a hostile work environment includes the overall culture of the workplace, the management or leadership styles, and the internal responses to bullying.  Sometimes all of these factors can be seen and other times maybe only a few are obvious.  But any of these factors are detrimental to the success and growth of individuals and the firm.

Culture of the Workplace

A co-worker of mine can tell you a compelling story of a company they worked for that created a very competitive sales culture.  Individuals who were the first to achieve these, almost unreachable, goals were rewarding with monetary valued gifts and were praised firm wide across 7 different offices.  Soon the competition culture began to spread, and the larger it grew, the dirtier the tactics got to win.  Staff started creating false sales in their systems or were changing information/messaging to slow down their fellow co-worker.  When a firm wide meeting about “tattle-tallying” transpired, everyone knew the culture had shifted into a firm wide bullying culture.

Competition can be healthy if done correctly.  A competitive culture is great when it supports a team mentality.  Combing groups of individuals or a whole firm together to achieve the overall result is much more successful than looking at your goals as individual achievements.

Management Styles

People spend a lot of their day and week in the workplace.  With time, people begin to associate their self-identity and self-worth around their occupation and their success in that role.  Most managers want to see their people find that success.  Motivation of staff plays a key factor in keeping employees focused on goals, finding the type of work they love, and ultimately helping them be successful as an individual.   But often times, mangers can lose focus on the proper motivation techniques, and instead move to tactics that can be extremely damaging to the employees by abusing their power and behaving poorly out of anger, jealousy or other emotions.  Managers have also been guilty of slandering employees to other managers or even other employees causing the victim to be an outsider. This results in false information flowing throughout the firm that can result in career limitations.

These damaging behaviors can result in employees feeling continually fearful of their job and losing self-confidence due to emotional and/or verbal abuse. Chances are if you ask around, someone close to you can share a story of feeling this way in their jobs at one time or another. If leaders want strong teams, this paradigm must change. And strong talent will certainly not work in these environments long term.

Internal Response to Bullying

The worst thing that can happen to a firm is when everyone in the office knows the bullying is happening yet no one is willing or feels able to stand up and say something to change it.  This kind of environment is absolutely debilitating to the success and growth a firm can achieve.  When a manager is not directly involved in the bullying, but allows it to occur, this causes the abusive situation to feel hopeless in being repaired and the bullying is thus rewarded.

Promotions and gifts are rewards, but it is also a reward for not being punished.  When leadership does not address the issue, victims and fellow employees end up feeling a great deal of frustration and fear for the one who is imposing the abuse as well as those who are allowing it to occur.  If the manager is not willing to address the problem, then who is?  Leadership has to change the behaviors of themselves and their employees to know it is welcomed to speak up when these instances occur.

In order to have the strongest and highest performing organization, you must be conscientious for any behaviors that can halt your efforts, the firm’s efforts and ultimately the wellbeing of your staff.  People do not forget the way their managers or fellow employees made them feel.  Make sure you have established policies that specifically address bullying and that you are openly discussing this topic with your leaders and your team. The goal is to open up the conversation so that people feel comfortable addressing issues with leadership instead of simply resigning with no hope of resolution.


About the Author

Angie Grissom serves as the President of The Rainmaker Companies, a leading provider of alliance, consulting, and training services exclusively for the Accounting Profession.She is passionate about the current and future leadership in the accounting industry and pushes firm leaders to build firms that empower people and have strong future leaders and unmatched client service. She encourages leaders to think outside the box and have a focus on getting results.