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Everyday should be Pink T-shirt Day

By Maureen Shaw

It’s time to stand up, step in and step out. The last Wednesday of February each year is Pink-T-Shirt Day in Canada. It is a good cause and deserves support — but that is only one day in a year. For the other 364 days, I urge you to look to those who need our support — that is most of us.

Studies reveal more than 40 per cent of workers say they have been bullied at work. Just in the last week, Rebecca Marino, a talented young athlete, has courageously decided to retire.  She has been working to control her illness and was being subjected to bullying tactic through social media.  Her decision to extricate herself from this toxic environment could not have been easy, but for her, it is the right one.

According to Sandra Robinson, professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business and co-author of the study published in the July 2012 edition of the Journal Human Relations, workers who witness bullying can have a stronger urge to quit than those who experience it firsthand.

"Managers need to be aware that the behaviour is pervasive and it can have a mushrooming effect that goes well beyond the victims," Robinson said in an interview with the American publication, Human Resource Executive. "Ultimately bullies can hurt the bottom line and need to be dealt with quickly and publicly so that justice is restored to the workplace." 

There has always been the schoolyard bully. We all have stories and experiences of name calling, pushing, shoving, and threatening and abusive behaviour from when we were kids. The kid trying to take power by asserting themselves on others can and does have long-term mental health effects on their victims. It is not a rite of passage. But what happens when these kids grow up and become workers, managers, supervisors or executives?  

Dare I say that the numbers reveal as much — or more — about the culture of the workplace as it does about the individual perpetrators? Furthermore, the psychological damage to those witnessing a bullying situation makes them both victims and unwilling participants.

In the same article on Human Resource Executive, Marianne Jacobbi, senior editor at Ceridian/Lifeworks EAP programs in Boston, said, "Bullying has a negative effect on team relationships, which creates a toxic work environment. When [people] witness bullying, they think, 'This could be me next,' particularly if it's their boss." Jacobbi also said 72 per cent of all bullies are bosses, according to research.

Confronting the boss is not easy, but the HR manager should do so if the boss is the problem. There is no easy solution to the problem of the boss being the bully. But, the first thing always is to look after your health. Some recommend alternate dispute resolution or conflict mediation, this could help for the future, but may not help with the current issues being experienced.

Bullying, harassment and abuse have no place in our workplaces and must be treated as a serious health and safety issue. Workplace health and safety policies should include statements on bullying, and they should also cascade to performance objectives.

The culture of the workplace will either support or not support such negative behaviours.  Undertaking a confidential healthy workplace audit is a good place to start. Having an employee committee to assist and support the audit and implementation of recommendations will create a supportive environment for all employees and management.

Bullying is a global issue. Around the world, legislation is being developed to address this issue — the European Union countries, New Zealand and Australia. Here in Canada, we too are increasing the number of provinces and territories that have or are expanding their regulatory responsibilities to include bullying, harassment and psychological injury. While this is important and I believe reflects the belief of many Canadians (as legislation should do), on its own, legislation will not eliminate all behaviours or the need for collective responsibility.  

The toxic work environment is destructive in so many ways. When there is a revolving door of workers leaving an organization, action is clearly needed. When you see bullying taking place, stand up.  

Turning your back on the person being harassed and bullied makes you a contributor. Take the first step to stand-up and take a stand. Whether you are a worker, a manager, the HR person, we all need to join together. Bullying and harassment make people ill, organizations sick and cause job loss.

Stand up. Let’s make anti-bullying a way of life every day. Until we do, we will need Pink-T-Shirt Day each year.

Maureen Shaw

Maureen Shaw is the former president and CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (now amalgamated into the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services). She spent over 14 years as leader of the IAPA, transforming it from a traditional safety training organization to one that approaches workplaces as psychologically safe and healthy places for people and business to be prosperous. Maureen holds key positions in several national organizations, including the Mental Health Commission of Canada where she is a member of the advisory committee on workforce mental health.
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