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Timothy F. Bednarz

Quality Insider

A ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ Creates an Organizational Tolerance of Harassment

The loss due to this negative behavior is enterprisewide

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 08:19

The leader’s role is to create a smooth operating organization without barriers that may inhibit employees from improving their personal productivity. The presence of harassing behaviors and those who would use them against their co-workers destroys any empowerment and organizational cohesiveness a leader builds. Harassment in any form humiliates and frustrates not only the victim but also the employees forced to witness these behaviors.

The leader who observes harassment but fails to take appropriate action to eliminate it jeopardizes the victim of harassment and the company. A “conspiracy of silence” typically develops into an organizational tolerance of harassment, even when corporate policies are in place to prevent harassment from occurring. Legal ramifications and consequences are becoming increasingly severe for the leader and company that turn a blind eye to this negative behavior.

Additionally, a leader who refrains from addressing harassing behavior allows his authority to be undermined, and his professional performance is diminished, which results in a measurable and negative effect on the company’s financial performance. What appears to be an easy decision to look the other way can have far-reaching career advancement implications.

Surveys published by Harvard Business School regarding employees’ perceptions of harassing behavior show that multiple or extreme instances clearly have serious ramifications for organizations. These surveys included employees from a number of major U.S.-based corporations and specifically indicated the following:

Job satisfaction

Harvard reported a 15-percent decline in job satisfaction between those employees who never witnessed harassing behaviors and those who witnessed two or more instances within their company.

Evaluation of supervisor

Approval ratings of supervisors who tolerated these behaviors in the workplace plummeted by 20 percent. Included in this is the loss of trust in the system that is supposed to allow employees to submit complaints without negative consequences in terms of their jobs and potential for advancement within the organization.


Organizations experienced a 10-percent decline in company communications due to employees’ lack of trust in the system and a strong sentiment that management does not take discipline seriously. There is a fear of reprisal that keeps employees silent.

View of senior management

Organizations experienced a 15-percent drop in the approval of senior management’s actions. The prevailing view is that senior managers are out of touch with what is happening in the lower echelons of the organization. This is specifically highlighted by the fact that senior managers behave as if adequate policies and channels are in place to deal with the problem of harassment.

Organizational commitment

Personal commitment to the organization is reported to drop approximately 20 percent because employees feel they’ve been left on their own to deal with these problems. When harassment occurs, employees believe they are powerless to do anything to effectively handle the problem. This is why so many employees ultimately go outside the company and through the legal system to handle the problem.

Employee turnover

Employee turnover increases with the existence of workplace harassment. Approximately 30 percent of those who witness harassing behavior will actively look for a new job. For employees who have actually been harassed, the number increases to approximately 50 percent. This represents a loss to the organization that then has to replace and train new employees, as well as a drain on experienced and productive employees who refuse to tolerate this negative behavior.

Once employees feel compelled to seek new employment due to the hostile workplace environment, the company’s liability risks increase because many will seek compensation for financial and monetary losses associated with the change in jobs.

It’s difficult for companies to quantify the total financial impact that workplace harassment has on efficiency and productivity, not to mention the financial risks associated with lawsuits. Harassment places leaders in the dilemma of having to effectively lead in what may be considered a hostile workplace environment. The principles of empowerment and team development are negated, completely undermining leaders’ efforts.

Excerpted from: Workplace Harassment: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, 2011).


About The Author

Timothy F. Bednarz’s picture

Timothy F. Bednarz

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D., is an accomplished author, researcher, consultant, entrepreneur, and innovator. He has founded three successful companies and has more than 26 years consulting experience in business development. As a critical thinker and transformational agent of change, he has the ability to view complex issues, identifying specific causes to develop meaningful solutions in simple terms. He has authored more than 125 books as well as a wide variety of high quality learning content. His latest book is Great! What Makes Leaders Great (Majorium Business Press, 2012). He is the author of more than 85 books in the Pinpoint Skill Development Training Series.