By Sarah B. Hood,
Canadian Business Magazine,
It dismantles teamwork, hobbles
productivity--and costs money.
It's a phrase that many people
haven't yet heard. It certainly was new to Teresa
Grant (not her real name) of Cambridge, Ont., when
she ran across it in a newspaper article. But as soon
as she saw the words "workplace bullying,"
she knew she had a name for the situation that had
just driven her from a job she had loved for seven
In Vancouver, when Stephen Hill
stumbled across a list of health symptoms related
to bullying, he suddenly made the connection, too.
"I only realized I was being bullied after six
years," he says. When he showed the list to his
wife, "she burst into tears," he now recalls.
As schoolyardish as it may sound,
workplace bullying is a range of behaviour that breaks
down the mental and physical health of its target.
Apart from compassion--and there's nothing wrong with
that--the reason executives should care is that workplace
bullying dismantles teamwork, hamstrings efficiency,
hobbles productivity and, ultimately, costs money.
Grant was proud of her position
as an operations manager in the construction industry.
"It was a job that I put my life into,"
she says. "I went away to trade shows--and I
had two little babies at home. Any time they needed
me, I was there. I don't think in five years I ever
woke up and thought, 'Oh my god, I have to go to work.'"
But when two new employees were
hired to work under her, Grant descended into two
years of torture. "It was not one big thing,"
she explains. Instead, she describes a stream of constant
criticism, verbal abuse and insubordination that was
hidden from her superiors. When Grant approached her
boss, no reprimand was given--and Grant was relieved
of her supervisory capacity over the two women. "After
that, it just got worse because they knew they could
walk over me," she recalls.
Grant wanted to apply for counselling,
but knew her claim would pass through the hands of
one of her tormentors. "I was demoralized, I
was ridiculed, I was not supported by the board of
directors," she says. "The last day that
I worked there it was pure hell, and the person who
made it pure hell was sitting at my desk and doing
compares the abuse to repetitive strain injury:
tapping a keyboard once or twice won't hurt you;
it's the repetition that's crippling.
Hill's story is similar in many
ways. A co-ordinator for a non-profit organization
within a university, he found himself targeted by
a group. Like Grant, Hill points not to one dramatic
incident but to a continuous barrage. "I was
kept out of the loop," he says. "I was asked
for my input on decisions that had already been made.
I was called into meetings that I assumed would be
a chat and found they were full disciplinary hearings.
I would sit in a meeting, and people would file in
and sit as far away from me as possible."
Hill compares the abuse to repetitive
strain injury: tapping a keyboard once or twice won't
hurt you; it's the repetition that's crippling. His
psychologist diagnosed him as suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder. "Previously I had taken about
three sick days in six years," he says, but in
no time he was embroiled in rounds of Workers' Compensation
Board submissions and leave time. After a miserable
two-month attempt to resume his job, Hill was officially
laid off, and his position was redesignated.
Researchers like Gary Namie of
the Bellingham, Washington based Workplace
Bullying and Trauma Institute find that women
are somewhat more likely to bully than men, and far
more likely to be bullied. Often, he says, "the
co-workers are somehow allowed to construe events
as the target's fault." Something of a bullying
guru, Namie got into the field after his wife, Ruth
Namie, a clinical psychologist, suffered at the hands
of a workplace bully. The couple's work is documented
both on their website and in their 2003 book, The
Bully at Work.
Marje Burdine, a Vancouver-based
organizational consultant, finds that bullying often
affects people at high levels of responsibility and,
as in Grant's case, that a junior employee can bully
a supervisor. "I've dealt with several cases
where a middle manager in a large organization is
being targeted by the people who work for him or her,
and the shame of being humiliated in this manner is
so great that they don't tell anyone," she says.
And the costs are high. In North America, most targets
eventually leave their position. Based on Australian
research, Burdine estimates bullying costs about $20,000
per case, or about $24 billion each year in Canada.
need to be accountable and
responsible for the environments they create."
step toward addressing the issue is through legislation.
Australia has included measures that specifically
or indirectly address bullying in several pieces of
legislation, as have Norway, Britain and France. Quebec
is the first jurisdiction in North America to do so.
Brought into force in June, section 81.18 of that
province's Labour Standards Act defines "psychological
harassment at work" as "vexatious behaviour
that manifests itself in the form of conduct, verbal
comments, actions or gestures" that are repetitive,
hostile and unwanted. "We've got to have a movement
sweep across Canada to complete what they've started
in Quebec," says Gary Namie. "The thing
that gives me hope is that Canadians are not afraid
to use the term 'workplace bullying.'"
Still, legislation is only a beginning.
"The only purpose of legislation is to cajole
employers and the workplace as a whole into addressing
the situation," argues Hill. "Organizations
need to be accountable and responsible for the environments
Some are. Beginning about 10 years
ago, management of British Columbia Rapid Transit
Co. Ltd. (SkyTrain) and CUPE Local 7000 worked together
for more than a year of policy drafting and focus
groups to create a "respectful" workplace
program and policy, with broad input from employees.
Now Marje Burdine is available as an outside resource
to SkyTrain employees under the title of respectful
workplace adviser. "There needs to be a safe
place in an organization for an individual to go and
seek help. It has to be someone who reports to no
one else," she says, pointing out that BC Hydro
had a similar arrangement with her.
At SkyTrain, if a bad situation
cannot be resolved, management may be called in with
a ruling ranging from training or mentoring to staffing
changes. "It's been very, very effective,"
Burdine reports. "There's a renewed respect for
management and the union because some tough decisions
have been made."
vary, but some 15% of shiny new jobs
are going to be abusive workplaces."
at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health,
management and two unions came to the conclusion that
Ontario's Human Rights Code did not apply to fully
60% of the cases that were coming forward within the
institution, so they collaborated on a new addition
to the internal harassment and discrimination policy.
Now, when a case is reported, peer investigators attempt
a resolution. The final recommendation falls to Rhoda
Beecher, the centre's vice-president of human resources
and organizational development. "I have to tell
you I'm very proud of this policy," she says.
"People are incredibly empowered."
Since his own experience with workplace
bullying, Stephen Hill has dedicated himself to fighting
it. Shortly after leaving his job, he co-founded an
organization called No
Bully For Me and began training to become an employment
counsellor. "Part of my motivation for moving
into this field is to put workplace bullying at the
forefront of employment counselling," he says.
"Statistics vary, but some 15% of shiny new jobs
are going to be abusive workplaces."
Teresa Grant found another job
two weeks after leaving her position, but she still
feels hurt that no one in her former company supported
her. "I know that everybody can be replaced,
but I felt I had so much dedication to this company--
and we started from the ground up--that in my heart
I felt that I was irreplaceable on a moral level,"
she says. "I find myself asking why more than
anything else. It was my job and there's nothing else
out there quite like it."
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