How to Get Your CEO and/or CFO to Agree to Bullying Training

First the premise: As an HR, Risk Management or Security professional within the context of the subject of “Bullying,” what outcome do you want to achieve?  I have repeatedly read  that convincing “C” level management to support training regarding bullying too often falls on deaf ears.  Why?  You attempt to convince your CEO that bullying behavior is linked to violence and that a subsequent catastrophic incident would imperil your company with significant losses and liabilities; but your CEO is not buying this rationale!  Why? Your CEO looks at probabilities and the probable chance that your catastrophic incident will actually occur is low enough not to consider, that is, relative to the cost of training employees (the hourly cost of an employee in training and off the job (lost productivity), plus the hourly cost of an employee replacement trying to make up for their lost productivity.). 


If, on the other hand, you are able to convince your CEO that your plan has merit your CFO quickly objects that there is not enough budget available for such training.  Why? Because your CFO cannot see a Return on Investment (ROI).  Your CFO says, “If we invest this significant time and money in this training (lost productivity), what is my return for this investment?”  You respond by claiming that bullying negatively effects productivity and the CFO asks you to demonstrate your claim.  This is where we get into a discussion of “soft costs” versus “hard cost.”  You claim that enhanced well being (soft cost) of employees will produce measureable results; they ask you to show where this is reflected on their balance sheet (hard costs)!  We need a clear and convincing illustration between the cost of training and the cost of not training (hard costs) that will motivate a CEO and quiet the CFO.  If you agree with this premise, I suggest you continue reading.


An important revelation: A survey was conducted by the largest Insurance broker in the world (Aon Corporation) in the United Kingdom of the Royal Mail, illustrating that when there is aggressive employee behavior (like bullying) other employees don’t want to be at work.  They come in late, go home early, stay longer at lunch (tardiness) and now there is a new term, “presenteeism” meaning someone is present at work but is so distracted by another’s aggressive behavior they might as well be absent.  Furthermore, these employees were so upset with their aggressive environmental that they would “call in sick” so as to avoid this toxic behavior, pushing “absenteeism” to its limits. If your organization has 4-5 days of absenteeism per employee per year (typical), one or two could be due to “aggressive behavior” in your workplace! I told one organization this and their VP of Human Resources turn to one of his colleagues and said, “Ours is 9 days!”  British Airways absenteeism per employee per year is 24 days!  They are giving CARS to employees who demonstrate reduced absenteeism!  What is the cost of absenteeism in your organization and how much could be due to “aggressive behavior?”  And these costs do not reflect the impact of an employee becoming so disenfranchised that they leave your organization, which creates all of the costs of replacement and retraining of a new employee.


This Aon Corporation study showed that, when adding together “tardiness” and “absenteeism” only, the cost to the Royal Mail annually was 247,000,000 pounds per year! (Do you realize that the United Kingdom is only slightly larger than the State of Florida?)  If you want your culture to change, you illustrate the costs of aggressive (bullying) employees and you may find that productivity and ultimately profitability can be a great motivator for any CEO and CFO to change their view of the need for this training, as well as supporting changing a current aggressive (bullying) culture.  This is not the possibility of future loss but the current and empirical loss due to Bullying and other aggressive behavior.  Did you know that there is a direct and correspond relationship between “aggressive behavior” and any attempt to establish and maintain “teamwork,” “leadership” and “loyalty?”  This is a topic for another time.


The key here is the reference.  It is not “bullying behavior,” it is “aggressive behavior” of which “bullying behavior” is one element.  When you consider the whole spectrum of “aggressive” behavior, it also solves another one of your key issues that I read about repeatedly in your comments, that of connecting petty bullying behavior with its more horrific evolution of “violence.”  This whole picture becomes clear and convincing “aggressive behavior” in your workplace presents a clear (empirical) and present loss on productivity, that also holds out the potential of violent behavior and when your survey is completed the costs will shock and motivate most every CEO and CFO.


The Survey:  This basis for the survey should be quite simple.  You asked all employees (or pilot with one division, etc), with anonymity so we get truth, “Have you ever come in late, gone home early and/or called in sick because of another’s aggressive behavior?”  (Or course you define aggressive behavior.)  You ask these questions in several different ways to get affirmation and through multiple choice questions; you ask them to quantify how many hours or days that they have missed. 


Once we have the gross number of hours and days lost due to “other’s aggressive behavior,” we ask the organization what is the hourly and daily cost of an average employee in this division.  From this we extrapolate a cost to the organization. 


This is not a “soft-cost” that can otherwise be discounted by a CFO, which is too often the result of soft-costs.  This is a “hard-cost.”  It is their employees telling them that they are missing valuable time and their integral costs.  It is very specific and the costs are significant (enough to turn the head of any CEO)!


We have done this so I know that is it quite easy to do.   When I was partnering with Aon Corporation with their clients, we would offer to base our costs/fees on 20% of their savings from a follow up survey. 


This produces the Return on Investment (ROI) that we have suggested will compel most any CEO or CFO! First, you conduct the survey initially, which illustrates the “hard costs” of aggression in your workplace, which justifies the cost of training.  Then, six months later, you conduct the survey again.  When you compare the cost savings in the second survey of the costs in the first survey, compared to the costs of training, you have the Return on Investment (ROI) and let me assure you; with Aggression Management Solutions training this return is significant.


In fact, no employer would take us up on this offer because, once they understood the concept, they knew the savings would be far greater than our recommended fees. 


In summary, what the Aon Corporation survey represented was those individuals who were tardy and/or absent due to another’s aggressive behavior, it is that simply and therefore that compelling.  We did not use the word “Bullying” because bullying is simply one element of the “Aggression Continuum.” It did not include “turnover” because there were elements of turnover that could be controversial and remember they wanted “hard costs” only (only costs that could not be disputed by the CFO).  They did not ask employees to estimate the cost of damage done to equipment due to another’s aggressive behavior, because the employee might be guessing the cost and this could be discounted.  This survey did not include “presenteeism” because as compelling as the concept is, the CFO could too easily discount it value. This survey only included tardy and absenteeism and the company’s cost of time (hourly and daily) because these were easily quantifiable and undeniable.  Aon Corporation realized that if a CFO starting “discount,” they too often would continue discounting every other element as well, and the result would be devastating as the CEO denying an otherwise reasonable initiative.  If you have had this same experience, let us know and we may be able to assist.

For more information, contact John D. Byrnes, 407-718-5637 or


  1. Aren’t most CEO’s hesitant to consider training to counter bullying because aggressive behavior is such a fundamental part of business. “Winning by intimidation” is widely admired and often rewarded. But, as your article suggests, when the true costs (both human and corporate) of bullying are quantified, management must respond.

  2. John D. Byrnes

    This happens because CEO’s are not distinguishing between “assertive” and “aggressive” behavior.   I propose we distinguish between “assertive behavior,” which is constructive, positive and interpersonally healthy versus “aggressive behavior,” which is destructive, negative and interpersonally unhealthy behavior.>>  When one is not making this distinction, how can they determine when good aggression ends and bad aggression begins, hence the rub!

  3. John D. Byrnes

    Primal and Cognitive Aggression is unique and proprietary to the Center for Aggression Management.  In other words, you can read more here, only.

  4. This is a great article. I have seen many situations where the CEO only cares about ROI, which generally hinders training spending in general, not just for things like bullying. It takes a good CEO to understand that a well educated workforce is one that will be more productive and make less mistakes.

  5. thanks for the article, i am doing a research on your topic, your information provided helps me a lot. I also bookmarked your site and will definitely recommend to my students to read your posts.

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