Bullying in the Workplace – Bad Bosses and Hostile Work Environments

Bullying in the Workplace – Bad Bosses and Hostile Work Environments

Bullying in the Workplace – Bad Bosses and Hostile Work Environments

Maybe you experienced bullying as a child in school. Bullying in schools was, and is still common place in some institutions. If so, those are memories you would likely prefer to leave behind. This might not be possible if you face a hostile work environment due to bullying at work. Are you being bullied at work? Many people are dealing with bullying at work on a daily basis, and don’t know where to turn for help. Don’t be ashamed, as it is not your fault. You are not responsible for someone else’s behaviour. Maybe you have even asked yourself whether you should stay or whether you should go. Is it time to move on and work with another organization? Don’t leave the organization yet, necessarily.

What is workplace bullying? What is workplace harassment? 

How does one define bullying in the workplace?


Bullying is an aggressive act, meant to destabilize and reduce the power of another, leaving the victim feeling isolated, rejected and hurt. Unfortunately for some people, they might experience bullying later on in adult life in the context of working relationships. Workplace bullying “usually involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behaviour that is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person or group of people.[1]


Although the title of the article is, “I have a bad boss”, workplace harassment takes place between all types of relationships in the workplace, between customers and employees, employees against other employees, and even employees against managers at times.

What is workplace harassment? What constitutes bullying at work?


Workplace harassment is basically the same as workplace bullying, except harassment is the legal term for offensive and/or hurtful behaviour that is unwanted and often repetitive in nature. This term might be important depending on where you live, and where you work, as the definition might be used to determine whether the behaviour itself if considered harassment. If it is, then you might be able to take recourse during those legislative schemes or administrative bodies. If not, you might need to try other approaches to dealing with the harassment.

Is bullying at work illegal?


In some jurisdictions, workplace harassment is indeed illegal, and is explicitly covered in workplace-related legislation. Ask your government ministry of employment and/or workplace compensation board to learn more about the legalities around appropriate workplace behaviour and workplace harassment. You might also have civil recourses through the courts, and/or recourse if the behaviour is viewed as a form of criminal harassment. In that sense, might consider reaching out to your local police station, say the harassment is serious. Read about the difference between reporting harassment in the workplace and to the police

Definition of Workplace Bullying in the UK

According to the UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS):
Bullying is "offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means that undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient."

Definition of Workplace Bullying in Australia

According to Safe Work Australia, a statutory agency, workplace bullying is defined as
"repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed toward a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety".

The Government of Western Australia Chamber of Commerce said:
"Bullying in the workplace may be described as repeated inappropriate behaviour that can occur at work and/or in the course of employment. It may be direct or indirect, verbal or physical, or some form of negative interaction between one or more persons against another or others. Bullying behaviour can be regarded as undermining an individual's right to dignity at work."


The Australian Human Rights Commission said one definition is:
“the repeated less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice. It includes behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker”.

Definition of Workplace Bullying in New Zealand

"Bullying may be seen as something that someone repeatedly does or says to gain power and dominance over another, including any action or implied action, such as threats, intended to cause fear and distress.” Evans v Gen-i Limited unreported, D King, 29 August 2005, AA 333/05. 

Definition of Workplace Bullying in the United States

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries:

"Workplace bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s)."

Definition of Workplace Harassment in Canada

Treasury Board Secretariat - Federal Public Service workers

Under the Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution, harassment is defined as: "improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. 

It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It also includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act (i.e. based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and pardoned conviction)."

Quebec Commission des Normes du Travail - Quebec workers


"Psychological harassment at work is vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures: that are hostile or unwanted, that affect the employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity, that make the work environment harmful."

Ontario

The Occupational Health and Safety Act defines workplace harassment as "engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome."

This definition of workplace harassment is broad enough to include harassment prohibited under the Ontario Human Rights Code, as well as "psychological harassment" or "personal harassment."

Some of the types of harassment that workers could experience in the workplace include sexual harassment, teasing, intimidating or offensive jokes or innuendos, display or circulation of offensive pictures or materials, unwelcome, offensive, or intimidating phone calls, or bullying. Leering, unwelcome gifts or attention, offensive gestures, or spreading rumours could also be considered harassment.

Types of workplace harassment? Examples of workplace harassment. 

What does workplace bullying and harassment look like?


Bullying can take many forms, from subtle moves to isolate someone to overt acts of aggression. Some examples include spreading hurtful rumours and gossip about others that isn’t true, intimidating someone, undermining someone’s work on purpose, threatening or abusing someone, removing someone’s responsibilities without reason, changing work guidelines constantly, making offensive jokes that are obvious, yelling, belittling someone, tampering with someone’s personal items or equipment, intruding on someone’s privacy, or making someone feel excluded or unwanted.[2] Even email bullying at work might take place, which might include any threatening behaviour over email. All of these behaviours demean someone, and over time, might erode their self-esteem and trust in themselves and trust in others. It also creates an unhealthy work environment, whereby the victim and other team members might start to fear confrontation or simply coming into work at all.

How does bullying start?


Bullying might start for varying reasons. Maybe someone has anger management problems and fails to address their anger effectively, taking it out on others. Maybe someone was bullied at another time in their life, and they are re-living the pattern – maybe they do not realize the true impact of their behaviour. Maybe the person has a personality type that makes it more difficult to empathize with others. But remember, it doesn’t matter that much why it started, it just matters that you are addressing it, so that it stops. These reasons do not excuse someone’s destructive behaviour. You still need to set boundaries.

Impact and consequences of workplace bullying


Workplace bullying hurts people, the team and the organization. The human impacts include frustration, helplessness, decreased confidence, anxiety, family tension, low morale and more.[3]


Workplace bullying also hurts your organization or company. Impacts include, increased turnover, costs to workplace health programs, increased risk to workplace incidents, decreased productivity, compromised corporate brand and decreased customer service quality.[4]

How to deal with a bully at work?


If you believe you are a victim of harassment or workplace bullying, also known as office bullying, take some of these steps, and also read out blog about Bullying and Harassment with some tips;

  1. Make it clear to the person that their behaviour is unwanted. Have a witness, such as a labour/union representative or human resources officer with you.
  2. Document everything, including the date, time and behaviour, the impact on you, the witnesses present and the outcome. If there is written proof, keep this as well.
  3. Report each incident to the appropriate person. Seek out the services of an ombudsman, special contact in the organization or human resources.[5] They will be able to provide advice on how to report workplace bullying.
  4. Don’t convince yourself that this behaviour is acceptable or somehow warranted by something that you have done. Victims may feel vulnerable and as if they have no option but to remain silent.
  5. Take these steps before you decide to quit your job. Although there may be a power imbalance between the victim and the bully, one person or even a group of persons is not necessarily representative of the whole organization.

Read our blog about what an employer can do to address harassment effectively. If you are a witness to workplace harassment, be sure to reach out for support, and follow the above recommendations as well (including documentation and reporting). Thank you for being a self-leader, and helping to contribute to positive change in your organization. Instead of allowing the conflict to escalate negatively, you are resolving the conflict.

Top 7 Tips for Mediators Addressing Workplace Harassment


If you are a mediator, how do you deal with workplace harassment? 

  1. Are the clients fully capable and interested in mediating the case? If one of the clients might be emotionally and psychologically struggling, it might be inappropriate to invite them to participate in mediation unless they have approval from their doctor or attending professional;
  2. Consider starting your time with the clients as a consultant to discuss their options, and then with conflict coaching so they are empowered to express their concerns when the time for mediation is appropriate. This is likely the best time to have the parties learn about the harassment policy and process, so that their expectations are managed. The truth is, the other person might not be separated (fired), so they might be asked to resolve the conflict with the help of a mediator. Of course, mediation is voluntary, but parties might aim for a collaborative solution, especially if one of the parties says sorry and genuinely will make an effort to improve their behaviour;
  3. Before the mediation, ensure that the parties are aware of their rights and obligations. Give them this website to learn more about harassment and boundaries in the workplace. Also, ask the parties if they would like a support person or lawyer present in the sessions, and offer the same to the other party as well;
  4. They might not be interested in working face-to-face with the other party, so if they are healthy and very interested in pursuing mediation, offer some alternative approaches, such as shuttle mediation (where the parties are in separate rooms and the mediator goes between each to manage the discussions and negotiation), or invite the parties to sit in the same room, but have them facing other directions;
  5. Many parts of the mediation might be similar, whereby the mediator is there to guide discussions in a safe environment with appropriate communication norms, ensuring that both parties are heard and that they are able to find a solution that works for both of them;
  6. A big part of the mediation might be future-focused, helping the parties establish new norms for working together. Work with them to come up with some broad norms for their relationship, and then talk through some examples and how they would be applied.
  7. Discuss ways in which parties might ask for help or talk to the other person, if there is a ‘relapse’ in behaviour.
Keywords:
 
Types of bullying, bullying and mental health, the bully at work, workplacebullying, types of workplace harassment, intimidation at work, retaliation in the workplace, against bullying, verbal abuse in the workplace.

About the Author - Bullying in the Workplace – Bad Bosses and Hostile Work Environments

Rhema - Legal Dispute Blogger in collaboration with Mediate2go

Rhema Kang is a litigation lawyer. She graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto in International Relations, and Juris Doctor from the University of Ottawa. She first became excited about mediation while working for the Honourable George W. Adams, a prominent Canadian mediator who handles legal disputes worth up to several hundred million dollars. Rhema was the researcher behind the book, Mediating Justice: Legal Dispute Negotiations, and won second prize in the FMC Negotiation Competition. Rhema enjoys dark chocolate with sea salt and finds it awkward to write about herself in the third person.


Bullying in the Workplace – Bad Bosses and Hostile Work Environments



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