Erica Pinsky



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Out With the Old - In With Respect for 2012


I am writing this article on January 16th Martin Luther King day. It seems only fitting to take some time today to ponder just how far we have come, or not come, in realizing his vision since his untimely death in 1968.  I ask you to  consider this quote, one that I use often with my audiences.


“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”


How do you, and those you work with, respond when they witness workplace disrespect; with words? Or with silence?  What is the cultural norm in your workplace?


Those of you that want to shift that norm and Speak Up respectfully will be interested to know that my new Road to Respect™ Speak Up e-guide will be available later this month.  Information on the guide and how to order one will be coming to your inbox soon.



It’s a New Year.  In spite of the fact that according to the Mayan calendar it is also going to be our last, I am feeling very optimistic about 2012.


One reason for my optimism is the fact that Values.com, The Foundation for A Better Life,  an organization that I blogged about last year has not only survived, but is thriving.   It now has the economic clout to advertise in multiple media streams to promote the importance of values in making a positive difference in people’s lives and communities.


During the holiday season I passed a billboard that caught my eye because, rather than yet another ad for some product we all just have to run out and buy, it had a simple slogan about doing good.  PeopleforGood.ca, like Values.com, is interested in making the world a better place.  They don’t want us to buy anything.  They just want us to do good: to be generous, compassionate, respectful and kind, precisely what I am dedicated to create in our workplaces.


Another reason I am feeling optimistic about 2012 is because within the next few months the Mental Health Commission of Canada will be releasing voluntary standards for psychologically healthy workplaces.  In addition to establishing standards for psychological health in Canadian workplaces, the Commission will  be encouraging employers to  set targets to achieve them, and will  provide strategies to achieve  healthier workplaces that are measurable, sustainable and allow employers to track improvement.


Those of you that read or listen to this enews regularly will know that my interest in creating values based workplaces where people treat each other with respect flows directly from my experience and the compelling research that clearly demonstrates the link between respectful workplaces and increased organizational performance. The fact is that respect is good for people and good for business.


In Chapter 6 of Road to Respect I present a whole pile of statistics to support the fact that workplace disrespect has a direct negative impact on an organization’s bottom line.  I cite a 2006 study by Australian researcher Paul McCarthy citing a cost to Canadian employers of $20,000 per employee per year.


If I were writing that chapter today, I could include research from the Mental Health Commission of Canada showing that between 10 and 25% of Canadian workplaces are “mentally injurious” to their employees.  Simply put, for thousands of employees, going to work is making them sick. That translates to a cost for employers of $51 billion.


Mental health issues are the leading cause of both short term and long term disability. They are the number one reason that people miss work. Particularly relevant is the fact that short term disability claims are not insured, but rather are paid for out of operating costs, meaning that this cost of workplace disrespect directly and negatively impacts your organizational bottom line.


Another interesting fact from the Commission’s research is that over the last 5 years the increase in damages awarded for workplace mental health has gone up 700%.  Increasingly courts are recognizing the importance of employees being treated properly and working in a psychologically healthy workplace.


A psychologically healthy workplace is, by definition, a respectful workplace.  It is workplace disrespect, power based behaviours like harassment and bullying that are the biggest contributors to creating the “mentally injurious” workplaces that are affecting increasing numbers of employees.


We have to look no further than the RCMP to provide proof positive of the link between disrespect and psychological illness.  In early November 2011, Constable Catherine Galliford decided to speak up about the disrespectful treatment that resulted in her being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  Since then dozens of women have come forward, so many that a potential class action suit is being considered.  Shocking, but not surprising, is the fact that women have been speaking up about this behaviour within the RCMP for years.  In 2006 the courts awarded the largest damage amount in Canadian history to Nancy Sultz, an RCMP officer who was deemed to have been so psychologically damaged by the bullying and harassment she received from her superior officers that she would never be capable of working again.


In almost every case, these female police officers ended up off work as a result of psychological harm suffered on the job.  Some went off on medical leaves, others decided to leave the force altogether.  I can’t even begin to calculate what all of this has been costing the Canadian taxpayer, who, let’s face it, funds the RCMP.


Workplace bullying is defined as “harm inducing behaviour.”  It makes people emotionally and physically ill.  This is the main reason it is being recognized as a legal issue under Occupational Health and Safety legislation, both here and abroad.


While it is always tempting and convenient to try and blame either the victims or the “bullies” in these situations, that fact is, as I have written on numerous occasions, and as the unfolding debacle in the RCMP so clearly establishes, the only reason people engage in power based disrespectful behaviour at work is because they can.  And the only reason they can is because their workplace culture and in particular those in positions of power allow and support them to do so.


One of the last things I did in 2011 was participate as a panelist in the eBossWatch America’s Worst Bosses Survey for 2011.  I had to read 200 stories of disrespectful abusive bosses and rate them on a scale from 1 – 10, 10 being the worst.  Sort of like trying to choose between the horrible and the terrible.  Not a job I enjoy doing, but I do it because I know that it is only by exposing and talking about this behaviour that we can start to address it.


We’d all like to think, or at least hope, that things are getting better.  For a small number of employees in a few isolated workplaces, they are.  But when it comes to workplace disrespect the facts are clear.  We are trending in the wrong direction.


While it is true that the standards proposed by the Canadian Mental Health Commission will be voluntary, the fact that standards for psychologically healthy workplaces are even being talked about, let alone adopted is cause for celebration.  The more we talk about the harm that disrespect creates in our workplaces, the more we expose the abuse and toxicity in organizations like the RCMP, the more we support and empower people to speak up and say "No More," the better the chance that we will reach that critical tipping point that Malcolm Gladwell talks about: the point at which the balance of power will shift to ensure that values based, respectful workplaces become the norm rather than the exception.


I know that I am going to continue to do my part to ensure that 2012 is the year in which that happens.


What about you?


 Will you commit to make 2012 the year that you start to walk the talk of respect at work?


"In her book, Erica provides a wake-up call for employers by detailing why respect, as a core value, is so imperative. She then provides a persuasive argument why organizations should embark on the road map to respect. Particularly compelling are her personal workplace anecdotes as well as the case studies featuring some of the largest companies in Canada, who are getting respect right."

Melanie Sklarz
Diversity and Respect Coordinator
Edge Learning of Ohio RespectfulWorkplace.com