Big Bully

Danger in the Workplace

Have you ever wondered what happened to the bully who made your life miserable in school? There is just cause to wonder what happens to these young people when they leave the school halls, locker rooms, and play grounds. Do they grow out of it? Do they see the error of their ways? Does Karma catch up with them?While one is five Canadian youth report being bullied regularly, according to the Canada Safety Council, more than 80 percent of bullies are bosses and at any one time, 25% of the workforce is being subjected to these exhausting spirit-crushing attacks. And they have moved their aim from the weakest kid in the play ground to the most esteemed people in the organization; the ones they identify as a threat.

Those who bully have a different perspective in life and one that will never change. They don’t grow out of these despicable behaviors, they find ways to improve their skills. They manipulate, deceive and evade accountability by scapegoating someone else in order to camoflauge their own shortcomings and wrongdoings.

While harassment is discrimination that involves characteristics protected by Canada’s Human Rights Act –ethnicity, religion, age, sex, family status, disability and sexual orientation, bullying is not about any of these.

According to State University of New York and Wayne State University workplace bullying is the repeated mistreatment of someone seen as a threat; using persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior through tactics like verbal, nonverbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation . Someone who is being bullied at work is continually criticized and subject to malicious rumors, gossip, and innuendo. Their dignity, integrity is attacked. Their competence is questioned. Their work is undermined, often represented as having been done by someone else. They receive deadlines that set the person up to fail. They are denied time off. Their privacy is invaded. They feel constantly stressed, worried, and off balance. constantly second guessing themselves. Victims of this form of violence hate going to work, gradually get sicker and sicker and often suffer from a whole range of psychological and physical symptoms: from insomnia to exhaustion, from irritability to depression, from concentration difficulties to panic attacks- or even to heart attacks. Most suffer a degree of post traumatic stress disorder. Most end up leaving a job they used to love, some try to endure it until they become gravely ill, and a few end their lives.

It has been thirteen years since the International Labour Organization reported that physical and emotional violence are becoming some of the biggest issues facing employees.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Labour Organization, abuse in the workplace has reached epidemic levels in some countries and is taking a major toll on their economies, due to increased absenteeism and sick leave. The I.N.L. reports there is a loss of employment amounting to $19 billion and a drop in productivity of $3 billion due to workplace bullying.

In fact it is such a big issue and one that is not covered under any Human Rights legislation that the provinces of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec have passed laws that address workplace harassment. In Ontario, jail time is an option.

And if you thought workplace bullying was bad, the psychological terror of “mobbing” in the workplace is even worse and just as common. Dr. Heinz Leymann, a psychologist and medical scientist, pioneered the research about this workplace issue in Sweden in the early 80ties. He identified the behavior as mobbing and described it as “hostile and unethical communication directed in a systematic way by one or a few individuals mainly towards one individual.” Leymann identified some 45 typical mobbing behaviors such as withholding information, isolation, badmouthing, constant criticism, circulation of unfounded rumors, ridicule, yelling, and unfounded disciplinary action backed up by the group of “lieutenants” who are willing to assist the primary bully in these attacks.

Quebec recently became the only jurisdiction in North America to adopt specific anti-mobbing legislation. Where traditional workplace bullying usually involves a dysfunctional relationship between two co-workers, or an employee and the boss, mobbing is the conscious, relentless persecution of one employee by a group. Mobbing starts with one or two perpetrators, then spreads like wildfire through an organization, verbally or electronically.

Mobbing has not only become a household word in Scandinavia and in German-speaking countries but several countries have enacted new proactive and protective occupational safety laws, including emotional well-being on the job, to address the mobbing behavior legally. For example, in 1993 the Swedish National Board of Occupational Safety and Health has adopted an Ordinance Concerning Victimization at Work. In addition, new organizations have been created to help victims of mobbing all across Europe, and Australia. Measures have been initiated in a relatively brief time period to deal with mobbing behaviors, help mobbing victims and help prevent further mobbing from occurring. For example, telephone hot lines have been installed and agencies for receiving counseling or advice have been created just for this issue. Why? Because workplace bullying and mobbing costs money in lost time, in health services, and in some cases, loss of life. Just because people leave the situation, the mobbing continues with the bullies destroying reputations, portraying their victims as the ones at fault, and while this could be cause for legal action, the person is too damaged to pursue justice.

Workplace aggression in British Columbia, however, isn’t illegal and victims must fend for themselves. But there is some hope in a provincial organization called Bully Free BC, started by former Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt in 2007 and is now supported by many individuals and organizations, including the BC Human Rights Coalition.The organizations’ efforts have so far yielded a $15,000 grant from the Law Foundation of BC, the creation of a draft legislative framework, and a province-wide petition for Workplace Bullying Law Reform to address the problem directly. We will hear more about this in 2012.

It is not just young lives that are bullied to death. Law Reform comes too late though, for mammographer Jodie Zebell, 31, managing editor Kevin Morrisey, 52, military veteran and manager Marlene Braun, 50, Waitress Brodie Panlock, 19, Gym Teacher Mary Thornson, 32, Bus Driver Carl Dessureault 44, Nurse Margaret Gettins, 50, Chef in training Stuart McGregor, 18, Dock Worker Omar Thornton, 30 who took out the five bullies in the mob before taking his own life.

There is no just cause for such a waste.

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