It is a big issue. I wish I could tell you how big an issue, but in the Canadian environment we lack any national or provincial statistics. However, if you go by employee reports and the responses when you write an article or give people a chance to blog on bullying it does seem to be a frequent experience in the workplace at all levels. We should not kid ourselves that bullying is something that only happens at the lowest level of the organization. It certainly happens throughout the organization and in the executive boardroom.
Organizations could do a lot more on this issue. Organizations typically don’t step in soon enough. I think organizations are sometimes reluctant to place blame where it really exists, which is typically with the bully. Yet it is not infrequent to find in some bullying situations that the victim might be moved around rather than the bully gets punished.
A lot can be learned from the research and intervention on bullying in the schoolyard. There is greater progress there.
Who do you read or turn to for interesting ideas on leadership and organizational health?
In terms of leadership, it’s simple: I will read anything I can lay my hands on about Nelson Mandela and other South African anti-apartheid leaders. The reason is that I grew up in that environment. I saw the incredible odds against which these people were willing to dedicate their lives, and how they made a meaningful difference in other people’s lives, almost invariably at incredible expense to themselves. So for me, growing up, that became the epitome of leadership.
In terms of health and well-being in the workplace, I turn to a wonderful group of researchers in the Scandinavian countries and more broadly in European countries. For a long time they have been leaders in this field. I look at the work initially started by Michael Marmot in the U.K., who was knighted for his research that shows how harmful status inequality can be at work in certain situations. Unnecessary status distinctions can be demeaning and actually have health effects.
This interview has been condensed and edited.