The official online extension of HR Professional, the magazine of human resources thought leadership

Emotional Safety at Work

08/24/2016 by Caroline Cole Power

Bullying and its impact on employee engagement

What are the telltale signs of workplace bullying? Examples include behaviours such as spreading rumours, undermining or understating accomplishments, inappropriately taking credit for work, setting people up to fail and directly or indirectly ridiculing colleagues, to name a few.

The International Labour Organization indicated in 1999 that one of the most serious problems facing companies in the new millennium is workplace violence. The gravity of this issue and the damaging role that bullying plays is underlined by a 2011 Canadian Safety Council report, which states that within the spectrum of workplace violence, the subset of bullying is four times more common than sexual harassment or workplace discrimination.

Effective June 15, 2010, through the passage of Bill 168, the Occupational Health and Safety Act mandates that workplaces in Ontario are required to have the necessary policies, programs, measures and procedures in place to eliminate or appropriately manage matters of workplace harassment or violence.

As a result of this change, employers have to provide workplaces that are safe from all nature of harm for employees. However, while many employers continue to diligently monitor the areas in their workplace that require a physical safety check, some still turn a blind eye to the bully down the hall that berates his colleagues at every turn or the passive aggressive executive who wants to retaliate when she perceives that she has been wronged.

These personality types and others that create undue workplace stress need to be pulled into check as diligently and with as much effort as that which employers place on physical safety, because their behaviour is violent – not necessarily physically, but emotionally. The legislation is meant to protect employees from emotional trauma as much as it is meant to protect employees from physical harm.

With the focus of many employers more concentrated on physical safety, employees may afforded little protection for their emotional wellbeing with the result being – among other things – employee disengagement, which erodes productivity.

Addressing the problem

What can be done to reduce workplace bullying? A good starting point is to provide anti-bullying training and make it a requirement for employees at all levels. Another important step is to establish a process for employees who experience bullying to anonymously provide information to the company, because some employees may not be comfortable reporting a bully, particularly if that person is more senior in the organization. Implementing and nurturing a culture of respect in the organization solidifies the context in which anti-bullying interventions can flourish.

Caroline Cole Power is president of Canadian HR Solutions.