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your life at work

This is part of The Globe's Your Life at Work Survey series. Take The Globe and Howatt HR's Your Life at Work survey, find the full results of the 2014 survey and look at all our resources online at You can also take the Quality of Student Life Survey, and the Quality of Life survey.

Many organizations across Canada are taking proactive steps to implement or develop respectful workplace policies and practices. Guiding tenets for a respectful workplace include a clearly articulated respectful-workplace policy; senior leadership commitment to employees' psychological safety; active and regular promotion of health and safety; adoption of inclusion and diversity policies; and effective training for all employees on expectations for behaviour.

The objective is to facilitate workplaces that are collaborative and safe. One challenge when creating a respectful workplace is confronting all bullying and harassment incidents – with no tolerance – by enforcing respectful-workplace policies and procedures. For this to happen effectively, all managers must be prepared and committed to take action when an incident arises.

Organizations with well-developed respectful-workplace practices have successfully created open and safe communications channels where employees feel confident they can report their observations and concerns without fear of retaliation.

One challenge for creating a respectful workplace is dealing with bullies. Bullying includes actions or words that make another person feel unsafe, worthless, embarrassed, unwanted, ashamed, fearful for personal safety or excluded. A person who is a victim of bullying often lives in fear when they come to work each day and is distracted, which disrupts their productivity.

Bullying can happen in different forms, such as overt (such as a bully utters a verbal threat) and covert (such as isolating, ignoring and excluding). Bullying happens face-to-face, as well as through electronic media. Bullying has no purpose other than controlling and harming another person. It provides zero value for an organization.

In fact, bullying is bad for an organization's culture and business. It eats at the fabric of human respect, civility and trust. It results in increased disability claims, employee turnover, sick leave, employee stress, absenteeism and thoughts of suicide and mental-health issues, and it drives down productivity.

Not only can bullying impact employees in the workplace and affect their overall health, it also can disrupt their home life. A victim of bullying may struggle in social interactions with their family and friends because they may lose self-esteem, suffer emotional distress, feel anxious or sad, and avoid contact with others.

Conflict can be productive when addressed in a professional and timely manner. However, unresolved conflict increases employees' stress and has a negative impact on productivity. The cost of unresolved conflict has been found to be one of the largest reducible costs in many organizations. One strategy organizations are adopting to deal with employee peer-to-peer conflict is providing employees in conflict an opportunity for mediation to assist in moving beyond the conflict in a proactive manner.

At the core of developing a respectful workplace is each employee's responsibility to not engage in behaviours that are harmful to their peers. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in creating a respectful workplace is supporting and encouraging victims of bullying or harassment to have confidence to come forward. Training and educating every employee of their rights is a start, but some employees under pressure may not have the coping skills to confront a situation and take action.

Since being a victim of bullying is a traumatic experience, it is not atypical for a person experiencing bullying to get confused by their cognitive dissonance. Some may get trapped in the belief that they are powerless to take action and that talking will make things much worse. In some cases, a person may start to rationalize bullying as a way to cope. It's important not to judge a person who is in this state; they will benefit from gentle encouragement and reassurance of support. It takes a great deal of courage to stand up to a bully.

The purpose of this month's quick survey, found at the end of the Your Life at Work Survey is to provide a bully risk screen. The goal is to assist employees who may be feeling uncomfortable in the workplace to evaluate whether they are experiencing bullying.

Regardless of your bully risk score, if you don't feel right it is well within your rights to speak up, tell someone you trust and ask questions. There is no shame in being a victim. One tragedy is when victims of bullying are not clear of what is happening to them, are not aware of their rights or don't feel confident in asking for help to stop the bullying.

Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt HR Consulting in Kentville, N.S.

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