Knowing that I wanted to go to university meant that I got my first job the day I turned sixteen. I have worked every year since then and have held a variety of positions, saving up paycheques little by little to help pay for books. I have been a tutor, a foster care caregiver, a special education assistant, a literacy counsellor, a photographer, a newspaper reporter, and a writer.
I have enjoyed all of my jobs and always felt good about trotting off to work each morning. However, my recent experience with workplace harassment almost changed all of that, and before I could even comprehend what was happening, I had become the target of workplace bullying.
We might think that bullying is something that only children experience, but this isn’t necessarily true. The Canadian Institute of Health Research estimates that approximately 40 percent of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis. Similarly, the Canada Safety Council states that one in six employees has been bullied at one point, and that one in five employees has seen a co-worker being bullied.
While it is perfectly normal for there to be differences of opinion and the occasional conflict at work, bullying transcends these isolated incidents. The term “workplace bullying” can be used to describe a repeated series of events or patterns of behaviour that are carried on with the intention of hurting or isolating a co-worker among peers. Most often expressed verbally rather than physically, workplace bullying is a form of psychological violence and a measured attempt to intimidate, demean, humiliate, offend, and hurt someone in the workplace environment.
Currently, there are no rules in place that would require workplaces to have violence prevention programs. Similarly, there is also no occupational health and safety legislation written that specifically deals with workplace bullying, with the exception of in Quebec.
This has contributed to a lack of understanding in the workplace regarding the very real mental health effects that can result from workplace bullying. In addition to a significant decrease in job enjoyment, workers who are being bullied regularly have reported feeling depressed, anxious, stressed, less confident, angry, and frustrated. They also often experience lower productivity and an inability to concentrate. Most upsettingly, few people know how to confidently and calmly take control of a situation where they find themselves the victim of bullying. However, courses of action that one may take if they find themselves the victim of workplace bullying do exist.
Bullying comes in many forms, and when thinking about how to best approach a bully, it is important to identify which type you are dealing with. Does your co-worker or boss spew passive
aggressive comments aimed at spreading gossip and tarnishing your reputation? Does s/he do so behind closed doors? If yes, then you probably have a subtle bully on your hands.
Or, are you being hounded by a more raging aggressor, bent on intimidation, insult, humiliating you and your work in the public setting, and targeting you with unreasonable criticism and anger? Bullies who are controlling like this will often withhold resources necessary to succeed, such as access to training, autonomy, and time, and then lay blame on the victim with unrealistic demands. Knowing how to distinguish the different characteristics between bullies will greatly help in terms of setting an action plan.
Building from my own experience, I can suggest that the first thing to do is firmly tell your bully that their behaviour is unacceptable and needs to stop. Find a time when you feel confident in addressing the person calmly and explain how their behaviour is hurting you. Some people may feel more comfortable resolving a bullying issue in the presence of a supervisor or union member, as this provides a professional setting and third-party insight that can be useful in the mediation process.
Rather than complaining about the bully’s past actions, be productive by using this meeting as an opportunity to communicate your personal concerns. Very often, small-scale workplace bullying is the result of a power imbalance. With a little perseverance and mutual goodwill, the issue can usually be resolved relatively early.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes, workplace bullying grows into something of a monster, and it is in these situations that reporting to higher management is essential. It is helpful to present your manager or supervisor with documentation of the bullying, so beginning to keep a factual journal of incidents can be a good idea. If you have been harassed over email, fax, or through letters, print copies of the documents and keep them handy. In as much detail as possible, write down the date, time, witnesses, and outcome of all bullying events immediately after they happen. By documenting this information, you are outlining a pattern of behaviour that will be critical in investigating your complaints.
The key to resolving workplace bullying is, I believe, acting as soon as possible. Do not ignore any bullying behaviour and be quick to establish a guide for dealing with unacceptable conduct. By educating ourselves and others about the very real issue of workplace bullying we can begin to take preventative measures that will make us more confident, should we ever find ourselves in such a difficult situation.