Playground bullying is a well-recognized problem with far-reaching social implications. At an early age, teasing, taunting and alienation can be seriously detrimental to the self-esteem and social confidence of a child. But what happens when the playground bully grows up and gets a job? Sadly, bullying often doesn't end with adulthood. Instead, hair-pulling and name-calling can give way to more grown-up forms of intimidation.
Awareness about workplace bullying is growing in Canada. In a 1999 International Labour Organization report, researchers warned that physical and emotional violence are becoming some of the biggest issues facing the workplace going into the 21st century.
At some point, you may very well find yourself confronted by a bully in a workplace situation -- knowing how to deal with him or her is essential. Knowledge is power, so here's what we know about office bullies.
Understand what you're dealing with
According to Canada's Safety Council, more than 80 per cent of bullies are bosses. Makes sense -- not too many mail clerks are likely touse intimidation tactics on the company's CEO. And contrary to popular belief, bullies don't go after the weakest link, they tend to aim for the strongest. The Safety Council's report states that bullies pick on capable, co-operative people they identify as a threat.
Many bullying victims don't realize they are being bullied because they aren't doing anything wrong and because a higher-up is doing it. Sheila, a journalist, says the harder she worked, the meaner her boss would be. "If I got a great story, I'd never be congratulated. Instead, he'd find a way to work my country accent or my klutzy ways into the conversation," she says. "It was so inappropriate." Sheila was lucky, her boss was let go for other reasons, but that won't usually be the case. So, here are some practical ways to handle this tough situation, as well as the legal implications of allowing workplace bullying to continue.Page 1 of 2
Speak up for yourself
Bullies intimidate and threaten in order to ensure your silence. The only way to stop that cycle is to open your mouth. When you fumble a presentation and Nina from marketing yells at you in the middle of the boardroom -- that's not OK. When your higher-up mocks your lack of a love life by the water cooler -- that's not OK.
The way to ensure you keep getting bullied is to let it slide, not wanting to cause friction or draw more attention to yourself. Don't hide away -- you don't have anything to be ashamed of. If someone in your office verbally abuses you or one of your co-workers, speak up. Saying, "I'm sorry. I don't think I understood what you meant," will force the person to explain why a joke about the size of your butt was funny, making everyone around understand that the comment was out of line. If a bully yells at you or tries to intimidate you in any way, respond firmly, directly and concisely. "Please don't speak to me that way," or "That's inappropriate," will do the trick.
A bully's strength comes from your silence -- if you confront a bully, they lose their power. The point is, your office bully is doing something wrong, but if you don't speak up, how will anyone ever know?
Stand up for others
The very presence of a bully in your office brings on junior high flashbacks, but don't allow yourself to give in to peer pressure and the group mentality. If you see someone being picked on, do something about it. With the judiciary system recognizing bullying as an offence, you and your company could be in serious trouble if you turn a blind eye.
In 2003, The Kavanagh Decision (Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees v. Newfoundland) forced employers to take the issue of workplace harassment very seriously. In that case, the province of Newfoundland was sentenced to pay $875,000 in damages to a disabled government worker whose employment was terminated after a campaign of harassment by his co-workers.
The verdict showed there are serious consequences for allowing the continuation of workplace bullying. Since then, countless Canadian organizations have sponsored anti-bullying seminars and presentations, spurred on by the message of the Kavanagh case. The message isn't just for employers, but for employees as well. It's wrong to allow this type of behaviour -- as detrimental to adults as it is to children and teenagers -- to take place. Do your part to keep bullying out of your workplace.
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