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Dealing with workplace tyrants

Bullying on the job must be prevented

CB-Tact-Bullyingi6011549-[358x307]The gang goes out for a long Friday lunch, but Emmanuel is pointedly not invited. The team leader compliments everyone on a marketing campaign but somehow forgets to mention Sandra.

A group of co-workers suddenly becomes tightlipped when Arnie approaches. Lakisha repeatedly doesn’t get the memo when all-staff meetings are called.

Beyond careless discourtesy

Incidents such as these – especially when they’re enduring and relentless – go beyond careless discourtesy. They’re signs that a workplace might be harbouring bullies. Not to be confused with constructive feedback, evenhanded expressions of differences of opinion or reasonable performance expectations, bullying is intended to undermine. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), has listed some ways in which it manifests:

  • Spreading malicious rumours, gossip, or innuendo
  • Excluding or isolating someone socially
  • Intimidation
  • Deliberately impeding a person’s work
  • Physically abusing or threatening abuse
  • Removing areas of responsibilities without cause
  • Constantly changing work guidelines
  • Establishing impossible deadlines that will set up the individual to fail
  • Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information
  • Making jokes that are obviously offensive

Lasting harm to mental health

On-the-job tyrants can poison morale and lay waste to productivity. Worse, they can do lasting harm to their victims’ mental health. The CCOHS says targets of this insidious practice may experience insomnia, loss of appetite, lack of concentration and a sense of panic, intense frustration or anxiety, among other symptoms. Yet bullies at work are surprisingly common, with one estimate indicating that 40 per cent of Canadians have experienced some form of intimidation on the job at least once a week over a period of six months.

The trauma caused by bullying is now widely recognized by the legal system, according to a 2010 report produced by Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW). “Increasing amounts . . . of damages paid to wronged employees in employment law, human rights law, health and safety law and compensation law, to name a few, mean that courts. . . have become more sensitive to the issues especially with advances in laws elsewhere in the world,” the report states. “These emerging legal cases give workers the impetus to. . . lobby for psychologically healthy and safe workplaces and to urge governments and policy-makers to update legislation to account for these obligations.”

New policies in B.C.

To combat the problem, WorkSafeBC, British Columbia’s workers’ compensation insurer, introduced new policies in March 2014 that address workplace bullying.

“These are reasonable regulations,” says Sheri Hamilton, associate vice president of human resources at B.C.’s Salmon Arm Credit Union ($535 million in assets, 19,000 members). “Recognizing the effects of stress on one’s health and the negative impacts are important.”

The new WorkSafeBC policy also emphasizes that employers need to create procedures for receiving and dealing with complaints. Employers must also inform and train workers and supervisors about their own responsibilities. Two staff members from Salmon Arm Credit Union attended a WorkSafeBC seminar on the subject and Hamilton says they learned that the effects of bullying on a victim can be cumulative – and that it’s important for all parties to ensure the work environment is free of intimidation.

“We already have policies to address potential bullying and personal harassment complaints,” she says. “While we do have a process for investigations, likely more training on the part of HR and our managers in conducting these is something we need to prioritize.”

Making anti-bullying a priority is the mark of a progressive employer. Removing even a hint of intimidation in the workplace – an action so clearly linked to credit union values – is a great recruiting tool for top talent and can place the credit union system at the vanguard.

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