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Workplace bullying: Time to tackle head on

Liam Lahey

Do you loathe going to work due to an abusive colleague or manager? Is the atmosphere at work stressing you out to the point that you'd just as soon quit your job than be bothered with confronting the issue head-on? If so, you're not alone apparently.

According to the results of a newly released study by CareerBuilder.ca, 45 per cent of Canadian workers say they have felt bullied at work. One-third of these workers report suffering health-related problems as a result of bullying and 26 per cent decided to quit their jobs outright to escape the situation.

Mark Bania, managing director, CareerBuilder.ca in Toronto, says workplace bullying might not be a top-of-mind issue at a lot of Canadian companies but based on past U.S.-centric studies on this topic, it's an important one for organizations on this side of the border to bear in mind. Particularly since if left unchecked, it can have a detrimental impact on a company's productivity and overall morale.

"Workplace bullying is defined in a lot of different ways. It could be as simple as being ignored (49 per cent say they are), or using different standards and policies toward one employee over another (50 per cent), or being gossiped about (29 per cent)," he explains. "There's a wide array of ways people feel bullied in the workplace. It boils down to their perception of what bullying is."

The CareerBuilder.ca survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive last May and including more than 550 respondents nationwide, also finds nearly half of workers don't confront their bullies and that the majority of incidents go unreported.

Of workers who felt bullied, most point to incidents with their co-workers (24 per cent) or boss (23 per cent). Seventeen per cent say they've been "picked on" by customers. Another 17 per cent claim they've been bullied by someone higher up the corporate ladder and other than their boss. More than half (55 per cent) of those bullied say they were bullied by someone older than they were, while 26 per cent said the bully was younger.

How to deal with bullies on the job

"Anecdotally, in my dealings with our permanent and temporary staff across Canada, this subject certainly comes up," remarks Nadia Ciani, vice-president of human resources & communications, ManpowerGroup Canada. "The first thing (in terms of dealing with the issue) is not to pass judgment. Sometimes these issues can be dismissed too easily. Gather the facts and work from a place of fact as opposed to emotion. Then you can understand all sides of the story and evaluate from there."

Often times, the root cause of such incidents boils down to communications differences and a lack of awareness. But Ciani adds it's not just a matter of bullying.

"What's really top-of-mind in Canada is how health and safety legislation is evolving. It's one part of a bigger topic. For example, in Quebec, the passage of psychological harassment under health and safety legislation really speaks to this," she says. "From a broader perspective of mental health or health in general of employees, it's a big topic that's being discussed and bullying is one element that affects that."

Gina Ibghy, vice-president, organizational development & human resources at Randstad Canada, says the problem with workplace bullying is it's often swept under the rug.

"It's not talked about too much about but is it prevalent? The answer is 'yes'," she says. "Not everyone takes it seriously. Some of the areas perceived as bullying, such as being passed up for a promotion or being ignored, some of that bleeds into the responsibility of the (victim).

"Have they done what they need to do to assert themselves? If the answer is 'yes', then keep a log and timestamp it. Bullying can't just be one event, unless it's abuse and that's very different."

Ibghy adds there's an underlying reason for bullying and it starts at the top of the corporate food chain.

"From an organizational development and HR perspective, how are you developing your leaders? People doing bullying are being enabled by leaders that aren't responding to it and that's a direct correlation to your accountability model," she says. "Most companies have great cultural or mission statements on their websites and they appear to believe in wonderful values. But how are they instilling and actually holding people to those values?"

If you're feeling bullied in the workplace, CareerBuilder.ca's Bania suggests the following tips:

  • Keep a record of all incidents of bullying, documenting places, times, what happened and who was present.
  • Consider talking to the bully, providing examples of how you felt treated unfairly.
  • Always focus on resolution. When sharing examples with the bully or a company authority, centre the discussions on how to make the working situation better or how things could be handled differently.

"When 45 per cent of (respondents) feel that they've been bullied and a third of which have suffered health problems … this affects the company's bottom line significantly," he adds. "That's a staggering number. People shouldn't just sit back and allow these things to happen. These issues need to be addressed."