Bullying in the workplace can take many forms and cause workers to react in uncharacteristic ways especially if they are fearful of being victimized, embarrassed or harassed. Bullying has been defined as repeated, persistent, continuous behaviour as opposed to a single negative act. It is often associated with a power imbalance between the victim and the perpetrator.
Worker-to-worker workplace bullying has increasingly been the focus of research in order to better understand the dynamics at play and to explore additional strategies to create healthy and safe work environments
Recent news about the Volkswagen scandal saw finger-pointing within the executive ranks along with the resignation of the Company’s CEO. Volkswagen is alleged to have been caught cheating on American air pollution tests. Their software called “defeat devices” in the electronic control module of diesel vehicles issued between 2008 - 2015 only emitted 10 to 40 times the legal amount while on the road. These emission levels were incorrectly reported as the engines emitted nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times above what is allowed in the US.
What does all this have to do with workplace wellness and bullying? Imagine what it must be like to work inside the ranks of Volkswagen before and now after this “diesel dupe”. In all likelihood, there were employees who knew something wasn’t adding up, but were too concerned about what do and who to tell.
Specifically in manufacturing companies, employee orientation includes mandatory employees WHMIS and Health & Safety training that addresses workplace violence, harassment, and bullying prevention. Yet a recent cross border survey of 2000 respondents by Mental Health America (MHA) and the Canadian Association for Mental Health (CAMH) reveals that corporate offices in Canada and the US experience widespread workplace bullying. Specifically, 67 percent of respondents reported that they feel their company might fire them at any time and that 83 percent report that their company is overly focused on trivial activities. More importantly, the report showed that 80 percent of respondents believe their workplace is unhelpful or hostile, and as a result, they tend to work alone.
Employees fear being retaliated against for whistle-blowing. They often stay quiet and try to survive the negative effects of an unhealthy workplace. Prevention of workplace bullying requires a different step of management mechanisms including eduction and training as well as regular assessment and review of employee performance and feedback. Bullying is often linked to poor or absent management styles.
Employers are encouraged to watch for signs and symptoms of bullying — not only for the mental and physical health of the worker, but for the overall health and reputation of the company. The cost that Volkswagen will pay for not doing so will be in the billions. Whether they can survive this maelstrom, only time will tell.
Such dramatic events can and should be avoided. Bullying tends to be seen as more obvious in terms of verbal comments and negative physical contact, but it also includes more covert actions such as: the silent treatment, rumours, personal attack on attributes or one’s private life, unjustified criticism, over-monitoring of work, verbal aggression and withholding information.
When employees seem anxious, choose to work alone, avoid colleagues and report higher rates of absenteeism, there is likely something more that the employer may wish to explore. Workplace bullying could be a factor. There are various resources and reference guides available including:
OSH Answers Fact Sheet:
Huffington Post: Tips for potential victims
Forbes: How to stop workplace bullies in their tracks
Please feel free to contact us for more information, resources and tips. We’re here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.