The cost of bully bosses

The recent Rolling Stone article alleging Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon created a toxic work environment is a high-profile example of a common problem, according to a Sept. 12 news release from Challenger, Gray & Christmas. 

Bully bosses are prevalent in the workforce — even within the context of remote work, according to the executive coaching and outplacement firm. A 2021 survey from the Workplace Bullying Institute found that 65 percent of bullies at work are bosses, and 43 percent of workers get bullied via remote meetings and email. 

The cost is often talent drain, as happened with the Tonight Show. In an industry like healthcare, which already struggles with recruitment and retention, bad behavior from the top can be especially detrimental to an organization. 

"When employees work in fear, innovation ceases and the main focus of workers' jobs becomes trying to avoid the boss's wrath," said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "This causes a downturn in employee morale, loss of talent, and the potential for hostile litigation, all of which most certainly impact the finished product, as well as the bottom line."

Not all toxic bosses look the same. The release identifies three types: "conquerors," who are physically imposing and micromanage or belittle to keep control; "performers," who tend to have low self-esteem and target others to feel empowered; and "manipulators," who take credit for others' work and lack accountability. In order to halt workplace bullying, organizations must have formal reporting systems in place that allow confrontation with those at the top, according to the firm. 

"People-leading does not always come naturally, and it is, in fact, a skill that needs to be practiced and honed," Mr. Challenger said. "A bad day once in a while, with effective communication, can be excused by employees, but not when it happens all the time without addressing the problem." 

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