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#HRPA2012 Part 3 – Bully or Effective Leader?

Posted by Joanne on February 13, 2012 Comments Off

I’ve facilitated many sessions on workplace violence and harassment, so Lauren Bernardi’s session, “Bully or Effective Leader? When Supervisors Go Too Far” at the HRPA 2012 Conference was of interest. Lauren mentioned that employees are less likely to bring bullying complaints against a supervisor or manager because of the fear of being fired. She also noted that:

Often bullying behaviour moves behind closed doors. Is private humiliation behind closed doors acceptable? I think not. The point is that bullying behaviour, whether in public or in private is not to be tolerated. The definition of harassment under Bill 168 legislation on workplace violence and harassment is:

“workplace harassment means 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”

It should be noted that giving someone the silent treatment and ignoring or ostracizing a team member are forms of bullying. It is also important to understand what does not constitute workplace harassment.  Enforcing rules or policies, like a dress code policy, and asking someone not to wear wear flip flops to work, is not harassment, if the policy is consistently applied.

So why does bullying happen in the workplace?  Lauren suggests that bullying happens when leadership is too autocratic OR too easy going.  Leaders who are visible and understand the dynamics of bullying are best at creating a workplace with zero tolerance for bullying.  A “No Bullying” workplace comes from respect at upper levels and positive attitudes being encouraged.

Early in my career, I worked at a great organization, but there were bully managers there too. A VP broke a pencil, and then threw it at me. I knew that behaviour wasn’t right. I went back to speak to him later and while shaking in my 20ish year old shoes, I told him that his behaviour was not appropriate and I did not deserve to be treated that way. He apologized and said he was “stressed.” Being “stressed” does not give someone the right to throw a pencil, or to bully and intimidate someone. In fact, if that pencil had hit me (like in the eye), it could have hurt me. His action today would be construed as “workplace violence,” based on the definition in Bill 168 legislation:

“workplace violence” means,

(a) the exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, in a workplace, that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker,
(b) an attempt to exercise physical force against a worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker,
(c) a statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker. 

I’m glad my 20ish year old self spoke up and thankfully, he never threw another pencil at me again.  I learned that speaking up is the first line of defense to stopping bullying behaviour. Of course, if an individual doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up they should bring their concerns forward to HR. Unfortunately, Lauren Bernardi notes that statistics show that people go right to the top to lodge complaints rather than going through HR. Why is that? HR needs to step it up and show that action will be taken with respect to bullying, harassment or violence, so that employees feel they can take complaints and concerns to HR and action will be taken.

Everyone deserves to feel safe at work. No one deserves to be bullied or harassed. We can all do our part in making sure our workplaces are free of bullying and harassment. What can you do now to make sure your workplace is bully free?

Posted by Joanne Royce

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 Joanne Royce

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