Erica Pinsky



Say No to Workplace Bullying

Lou Holtz, famous Notre Dame football coach once said "When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done." I use this quote to reinforce my "walk the talk of respect" message. I want to inspire people to take action to promote respectful behaviour at work.


Last September I presented a workshop called, "Is There a Bully in Your Workplace?" Soon after, one of the participants asked me to deliver the same message to his workplace leaders. When we met he showed me the new corporate workplace bullying policy he had written using materials from my workshop. He explained how raising the issue of workplace bullying with his union had led to language on workplace bullying being negotiated into their Collective Agreement.


I felt inspired! Here was a leader who really walked the talk. He had taken concrete steps to promote respect for the employees in his organization. He had defined workplace bullying and labeled it as disrespectful behaviour. He made sure employees had the power to stand up to bullying behaviour by giving them rights through policy and, in collaboration with the union, under the collective agreement.


Human Rights laws in Canada require employers to create "Respectful Workplaces." A workplace is defined as "legally" respectful if there is no discrimination or discriminatory harassment. Workplace bullying, an intentional, power based behaviour that often results in harm to the target, as well as creating a toxic workplace, is fundamentally disrespectful behaviour. However, it is currently not defined as legally disrespectful in most provinces in Canada, including B.C.


What that means, for many employees, is that they have to put up with bullying behaviour as a "condition of employment". In many workplaces bullying is ingrained in the culture, or "just the way it is around here." Employees have no legal recourse and often have no corporate policy or collective agreement language to protect them. And there are lots of bullied employees out there. My personal experience and booming consulting business attests to this. Plus emerging research in this area shows that workplace bullying occurs two to three times more often than discriminatory harassment.


This is not good news for anyone. Disrespectful workplace behaviour affects the employees that are targeted, the co-workers working in the fear based environment that bullying creates, and the employer - who soon begins experiencing loss of productivity and profitability. Researcher Paul McCarthy estimates that workplace bullying is costing Canadian companies close to $20,000 per employee per year. 2

Louis Maltby, President of the US based Work Rights Institute has said, "Bullying is the sexual harassment of 20 years ago. Everybody knows about it but nobody wants to admit it." I disagree somewhat with Mr. Maltby in that I am not so sure that everybody really knows about it. Many of us fail to appreciate just how pervasive and destructive workplace bullying behaviour is. That is a hugely problematic. When we don’t recognize the many hidden behaviours that make up workplace bullying, we fail to take appropriate action to deal with them. It’s time to raise awareness and understanding about this destructive workplace behaviour. We need to start talking about workplace bullying.


This month, Vancouverites will have a chance to do just that. A Symposium on Workplace Bullying will take place on May 27th at Simon Fraser University. This opportunity is in large part due to another "walk the talk’ individual I recently had the pleasure of meeting, Liberal MLA Lorne Mayencourt.


In April 2007, Mr. Mayencourt received an email from one of his constituents who was concerned about workplace bullying. This individual thought BC needed to follow the lead established by Quebec in 2004 and pass legislation to address workplace bullying (referred to in the Quebec legislation as psychological harassment).


Upon receiving that email, Mr. Mayencourt had a choice to make. He could have simply thanked the person for bringing the issue to his attention. He could have asked one of his staff to respond. He could have ignored the email. Mr. Mayencourt, however, did something else. He invited his constituent to meet with him to discuss workplace bullying. That discussion soon developed into a community based initiative which has resulted in the Symposium, "The Bully Within… Creating A Respectful Workplace."


This event is being chaired by Mr. Mayencourt, and organizers include the People’s Law School, The B.C. Human Rights Coalition, Pharmasave Drugs National Ltd, The Institute for Global Ethics and No Bully For Me. WorkSafeBC is one of the event sponsors. The symposium will provide a forum to raise awareness about workplace bullying. Organizers want to hear a variety of perspectives. They want to get people talking and to inspire action. That discussion may even lead to the introduction of legislation to address workplace bullying in B.C.


Up to 100 people can register to participate in the dialogue. And they really mean participate. Everyone who attends will get a microphone. For those can’t make it, they can support both the event and the promotion of respectful workplaces through the "Dollar a Day for Dignity" pledge sponsorship option. This campaign will support initiatives aimed at increasing awareness about workplace bullying and providing community based services to deal with it.


As I wrote in my last newsletter, each one of us can change our own reality. We need to stop waiting for someone else to do things and just make the choice to do them ourselves. Since I wrote those words, I’ve worked with a number of people who have taken action to deal with the growing phenomenon of workplace bullying. To all of you, I wish to express my thanks.


I have seen the destructive effects of bullying behaviour. I know how pervasive it is, and how ingrained it is in our society and in many of our organizational cultures. Bullying is a fundamentally disrespectful behaviour. It does not belong in our workplaces. It promotes fear, mistrust and conflict. It makes people sick. It bleeds away company profits and is bad for business. There is only one way to stop workplace bullying. We have to recognize it and take action to deal with it.


I am excited about adding my voice to the symposium on May 27th. Come join us and learn more about workplace bullying (www.thebullywithin.ca) and what you can do about it. Consider promoting respectful workplaces by supporting the "Dollar A Day for Dignity" campaign. Let’s prove Lou Holtz wrong by taking action to end workplace bullying. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed it is the only thing that ever has."


"This easy to read book paints a clear and vivid picture of what the many facets of respect looks like in a thriving organization.  Through numerous ‘respectful practices’ we are not just told, but shown how to move toward a culture where respect is a living core value and success and profitability are the outcomes.  It is the “roadmap” to respect and path to profit."

Mike Desjardins
One of Business in Vancouver’s Top 40 Under 40