Bullying in the Workplace: the Silent Epidemic that Requires Proactive Attention

February 27, 2019

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Gandhi’s famous quote may conjure grandiose aspirations to solve climate change, end world hunger, or cure cancer. But the truth of the matter is, change often starts much closer to home. Pink Shirt Day, a movement to raise awareness about bullying and raise funds to support children’s programs, takes place this Wednesday, February 27th. And while bullying is often associated with physical and/or emotional torment, there are much subtler, psychological forms of bullying that can occur within the workplace.

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who looks forward to their Monday morning alarm; few people actually like waking up. But for some, the sound of that alarm signals another week of suffering. In 2015, Worker Health and Safety Centre reported that 45% of Canadian workers felt bullied at work. With such a significant statistic, shouldn’t this issue be more apparent? Not necessarily. Bullying in the workplace isn’t always easy to spot. It might originate from an employer attempting to assert dominance over an employee with insulting or intimidating comments. Perhaps it’s a co-worker who belittles others by taking credit for their work. Depending on the nature of your workplace, cyberbullying may also be present.

There are much greater implications for bullying than high turnover and bad morale. According to Canada Safety Council, 45% of victims experience stress-related health issues, including anxiety, panic attacks, and clinical depression. 

No business or organization is perfect; bullying and harassment can occur even within the most micro-managed environments. It’s not unusual to not hear anything about it, either. Employees are hesitant to report bullying for a couple of reasons. For one, they’re embarrassed; many believe they should be able to handle these types of situations as an adult, on their own. They also don’t want to jeopardize their job or be viewed differently by their employer. In instances where employees do disclose bullying, they’ve reported a lack of support. As an employer, I believe the issue requires taking a proactive approach, rather than a reactive approach. 

When I established Jelly Marketing in 2013, I envisioned an organization that fostered a healthy and productive work environment. I pictured a place of mutual respect, where co-workers were friends, and a flatter organizational structure existed. But I knew this wasn’t possible with the snap of a finger; I had to make a plan. After some extensive research, I developed five core values that would help guide our company and be integrated into our everyday operations. They include: ‘Fairness’, ‘Prudence’, ‘Humility’, ‘Temperance’, and ‘Courage’. 

Our first core value, Fairness, involves doing the just thing. This includes engaging in ethical, reasonable actions and maintaining moral integrity. Prudence concerns thought before action, while Humility involves doing your duty and serving others. We define Temperance as balancing the right amount of effort. Our final core value, Courage, is about confronting fear with the right action. It’s doing what we know to be right in the face of danger. 

These values are not empty words that hang on a wall and collect dust. We live by these values and incorporate them as much as we can. To this day, every new hire is educated on our values in an introductory meeting; every month, we recognize the employee who has exhibited our values the most.

I like to think that Jelly Marketing is a very healthy work environment. I also like to think that’s it’s not by accident. I truly believe that the existence and frequency with which we’re reminded of the core values play a factor in our actions and behaviours. I feel confident that if there’s an issue, I’ll quickly know about it.

My advice for other organizations would be to adopt their own core values and implement them into their workplace. It’s a great first step to be “the change” that Gandhi speaks about. Is it a catch-all solution? Absolutely not. Values are merely one part of an ongoing process. They allow you to do something to deter bullying behaviour in the first place. 

My second piece of advice is to create open lines of communication. Employees need to know they can feel comfortable coming to you with their work-related issues. It takes tremendous courage to bring forward a bullying complaint to your employer, so it needs to be met with empathy, understanding, and action. Finally, I strongly advise implementing a zero-tolerance bullying policy in your workplace. Whether that involves warnings or not, that type of behaviour must be dealt with immediately.

Remember that bullying in the workplace isn’t always easy to spot; you need to pay close attention because its implications can be devastating for your employees and your business. Developing some core values, starting a dialogue, and taking action when bullying does occur, can greatly improve the lives of your employees. I know I’ll be wearing a Pink Shirt this Wednesday to help support the movement; I challenge you to do the same. Let’s stand up to bullying and create a better world for everyone!