Experts provide workplace bullying solutions

Advocates for job safety create comfortable space for employees

Bullying isn’t just a problem in schoolyards.

A provincial advocate for bully-free workplaces has been educating the public about job-site harassment since legislation passed in 2013 to include bullying in WorkSafeBC’s occupation health and safety policies.

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Robyn Durling, spokesperson for BullyFreeBC Society, says the non-profit agency is lobbying government and informing BC workers about problems with workplace harassment and bullying, offering remedies and solutions.

Durling said under the new legislation, WorkSafeBC recognizes the emotional impact workplace bullying can have on employees, resulting in a course of action for those affected by the problem.

“WorkSafe’s job is to prevent workplace injury, so what they are looking at now is working to prevent mental disorders, and treating those disorders as workplace injuries that resulted from harassment or bullying,” said Durling.

Durling said employees being bullied at work would need to have a psychiatric evaluation done by a psychiatrist or psychologist for their claim.

“If you could prove you have a mental disorder, such as anxiety disorder or depression, and it came about as a workplace stressor, including bullying or harassment, then you could have a potential claim with WorksafeBC,” said Durling.

While there are extreme cases where employees are so badly bullied at work that they no longer feel safe or mentally sound, many subtle versions of workplace bullying happen every day.

According to Sandra McDowell, a leadership-training coach and vice-president of communications and culture at First Credit Union, her place of employment undertook appropriate steps to create a safer workplace when the anti-bullying legislation came in three years ago.

McDowell recommends a good way for employers and leaders within an organization to keep themselves in check is to be aware of daily moods and stressors.

“It’s centred around emotional intelligence, so people have to take responsibility for their moods and how they treat others, and that includes your colleagues as well as your customers,” said McDowell. “So, it’s really about self-awareness.”

McDowell said there are a variety of ways professionals can take care of themselves, including exercise, sleep and diet, and that moods spreading through a workplace come from the leadership down.

“Your moods are contagious, and particularly negative moods are more contagious, and people in the workplace are more sensitive to those,” she said. “If someone shows up to work and brings their bad energy with them, we all absorb that much more readily than we do happy contagions.”

McDowell said the most important thing a person being bullied in their workplace can do is to speak up about it.

“We’ve done a lot of training around the concept of difficult conversations, and it takes a lot of courage to have those conversations,” she said. “Nobody likes them, but there are ways to structure conversations that allow you to take care of yourself.”

McDowell said establishing boundaries is helpful in protecting against workplace bullying, and if that doesn’t work she advised taking the problem to someone else within an organization that can advocate on the affected person’s behalf.

“In the training that we do with all employees, it’s around having that courage to step up. There are mottos and simple language that you can use, where you can say, ‘This is the situation in this snapshot of time, this is the impact it’s having on me and my request is this.’ It’s very basic, but it’s powerful to do that,” said McDowell, “but first of all you need to have the courage and the support.”

Workplaces can take a variety of positive steps to make it more comfortable for all employees, but ultimately it’s about modelled good behaviour from those in leadership roles.

“There’s a quote that I love that says, ‘Any workplace culture is defined by the worst behaviour a leader will tolerate,’” said McDowell, “because if a leader doesn’t take responsibility for bad behaviour, then it’s going to keep happening.”

Part of the work BullyFreeBC does, according to Durling, is explaining to workers their rights under BC Employment Law and providing potential remedies for situations of extreme harassment or bullying in the workplace.

“Under employment law an employer has a duty to provide a harassment-free workplace, so that exists already. If that isn’t adhered to, there are a variety of legal remedies,” explained Durling. “However, lower-level income-makers may not have access to a lawyer and often won’t have that form of justice, so that’s why we were pushing so hard to get new legislation that allows you to make a claim with WorkSafeBC.”

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