How to Confront Workplace Bullying

Nearly half of Canadians say they've been bullied at work. How to tackle the problem.

Written by Murad Hemmadi

Fostering the right environment within your business is crucial to your success, since employees do their best work when they feel safe and supported. So the recent findings of a CareerBuilder.ca survey of Canadians in full-time jobs should concern you: 45% of respondents said they have been bullied in the workplace.

Bullying takes a number of different forms, with inaccurately being accused of committing errors being the most common cause of employee distress:

Experiencing workplace bullying could affect workers’ mental health and make them more likely to quit. It also does real damage to the victim’s employer. “If left untreated, workplace bullying can have detrimental effects on the entire organization—not just the employees who feel bullied—including low morale and lost productivity, damage to the company’s reputation, potential legal costs and high turnover,” warns Mark Bania, Managing Director of CareerBuilder.ca.

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Employees are increasingly willing to discuss their negative office experiences—a good sign, since you can’t solve a problem you don’t know you have. But the rising rate of such reports may reflect a real increase in instances of workplace bullying in addition to changing attitudes around reporting. “I think the problem is actually getting worse because of the pressures that we see in the workplace these days and the need to do more with less,” suggests Martin Shain, founder of the Neighbour at Work Centre and an adjunct lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

To counter the problem, Shain suggests implementing the new National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety, a voluntary set of guidelines designed to promote workers’ mental health and wellbeing. But the Standard won’t make any difference until you take a long, hard look at the way your business functions. “These things don’t happen in a vacuum,” says Shain. “Typically harassment and bullying can only occur in fertile environments.”

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Any effort to tackle workplace nastiness has to start from the top: bosses were the most common bullies according to respondents (49%), closely followed by co-workers. Let your employees know that you are serious about eliminating bullying within your company, and that you’re willing to question your own behaviour to ensure that you’re living up to the standards you set.

Next, tackle the culture. While many companies have respectful-workplace programs and anti-harassment policies on paper, too few ensure that they are enforced with regularity. “The whole concept of bullying and harassment has to be basically rendered a no-go zone—it has to be made unacceptable,” says Shain. He recommends a three-part prescription to fight workplace bullying: awareness, understanding and carefulness.

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The first requirement is to ensure everyone within the business is aware of the consequences of their actions.  “If we’re to be civil to one-another in the workplace we have to at least have some concept of how we’re affecting one-another,” Shain says.

Managers need to encourage employees to make an effort to understand their colleagues’ needs, interests and rights, and to respect those. But it’s not enough to suggest these changes in a single seminar and then hope they make a difference cautions Shain. “There isn’t a pill you can administer to the workplace—it has to be an ongoing process of vigilance.”


How are you combatting workplace bullying at your company? Share your experiences using the comments section below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com