Reprinted from the "Workplace Bullying and Harassment" issue of Visions Journal, 2020, 15 (4), p. 4
Bullying and harassment are two ways to dismantle civility and respect at work. Bullying is repeated, unwelcome behaviour that humiliates, demeans or intimidates. Intent doesn’t matter.1 Bullying is hurtful because it’s so unavoidable and so personal. If the basis for bullying is a personal characteristic protected by human rights (such as race, disability, gender and other grounds listed on page 36), then it’s a type of discrimination that’s called harassment and it’s against the law. If it’s not on human rights grounds, it’s still not allowed under WorkSafeBC policy. Bullying and harassment not only create a host of psychological hazards for victims, witnesses and teams—as you’ll read—but it can endanger physical safety, too: directly (via distraction) and indirectly (via suicide).
I once had an employee disclose concerning behaviour to me from a team member at another organization. It had been going on for a long time, and the employee didn’t even call it bullying, but it met all the tests. There was a long list of instances of undermining, belittling and verbal aggression. My employee had tried to brush it off, but it was starting to take a huge toll on their well-being. I felt awful; it was so easy to see the signs—in hindsight. But bullies don’t all fit the same mold: they can be charismatic, they may have different styles with different people. I think many people who bully or harass do it unintentionally, and if they’re called on it and see the impact, will take care to not do it again. But a sizeable minority will disagree that they’ve done anything wrong—they may even argue their behaviour is necessary in order to support teams or work. The bully in this case was such a person. Thankfully my employee disclosed, the bully’s supervisor and I believed them and the bully was quickly out of their life.
This issue of Visions was planned, written and edited before COVID-19 upended our lives. Yet the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of social interaction, of which groups have more power and privilege, and of how our behaviours affect not only us but people around us. Those of us who are fortunate enough to still be working are also having to work differently. When we’re separated by plexiglass, phones or videoconference, it’s more apparent than ever that how we treat each other matters. Sometimes it’s all that comes across.
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division
- WorkSafeBC. (2013) How to recognize workplace bullying and harassment. www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/health-safety/information-sheets/how-to-recognize.