Small Business Tips Blog
Whether we like it or not, bullies are in our midst. Most of us associate bullying with childhood or adolescence: shoving in the playground, hair pulling in French class, or the spreading of pernicious rumours in high school. However, the infelicitous behaviour can be discerned in the adult world as well; especially in the workplace. Hierarchal relationships are the norm in the corporate world, but it is important for management to recognize abusive power dynamics and find appropriate solutions.
Canada's Safety Council reported four out of five workplace bullies are bosses. In response, groups such as the Dignitarian Movement have been fighting to have rankism – bullying of someone of lower rank – recognized, alongside sexism and racism.
Workplace bullying is also pervasive. According to the Canada Safety Council, one in six employees has been bullied at work. Ignoring workplace bullying can:
- have devastating personal and psychological effects on employees
- workplace violence and harassment affects the bottom line.
Also, stress caused by bullying results in:
- higher levels of absenteeism
- low productivity, and
- reduced morale among employees.
If bullying is not held in check, you may find yourself losing your most talented and competent personnel, as well as developing a reputation as a toxic workplace.
Three important steps employers take to avoid and take control of workplace bullying:
1. Know your liability.
Employers in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec have a legal obligation to prevent and respond to psychological harassment in the workplace.
Even in provinces without psychological harassment legislation, the Kavanagh Decision (Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees v. Newfoundland) has set a strong legal precedent of employer liability for workplace harassment. In this case, a former Newfoundland government employee was awarded $875,000 in damages after being harassed by co-workers.
Preventative measures include ensuring that harassment and bullying are addressed in workplace health and safety policies. Educate personnel to recognize the signs and effects of workplace bullying, as well as the protocol to follow when an incident occurs.
Developing a positive workplace environment can also discourage bullying. Enlist training tools and guides, available from organizations such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), to encourage positive management techniques.
2. Develop channels for reporting bullying.
Management may not always be aware that bullying occurs under their watch. Most employees don’t report bullying for fear of reprisal. The veil of silence must be broken to combat workplace bullying.
Steps to developing channels of bully reporting include:
- make employees aware of policies already in place if problems should arise
- encourage employees to report any incidents of bullying
- build communication channels between employees and all levels of management.
Employees need to know who to approach if they have concerns. Human Resources personnel can be instrumental in this role. Adopt strategies appropriate for your business’ size, number of employees and corporate structure. In a union environment, for example, different procedures such as grievance arbitration may be required.
3. Respond promptly to workplace bullying when it is uncovered.
Having the right policies in place to adequately respond to incidents of workplace bullying is the final piece of the puzzle. Under no circumstance should workplace bullying be tolerated, silenced or condoned. Train management to deal with potential cases as soon as concerns surface. Confidentiality should be maintained, and a third party brought in for mediation if necessary.
Remember, employers face legal ramifications if they do not protect their employees from bullying, including potentially costly lawsuits – not to mention losing competent personnel. If reported incidents are not dealt with adequately, employees can often leave under constructive dismissal.
Bullying in the Workplace http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/bullying.html"
Violence in the Workplace Prevention Guide
http://www.ccohs.ca/products/publications/violence.html, CCOHS (12$)
Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=794, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) (UK)
Preventing Violence and Harassment at the Workplace "http://www.employment.alberta.ca/documents/WHS/WHS-PUB-VAH001.pdf"
http://www.employment.alberta.ca/documents/WHS/WHS-PUB-VAH001.pdf, Worksafe Alberta
Constructive Dismissal. http://alis.alberta.ca/ep/eps/tips/tips.html?EK=11594