Bullying & Harassment in the Workplace

Bullying and harassment arerepeated incidents or patterns of actions intended to humiliate, degrade, or intimidate an individual or group. It takes many forms and has many potential negative outcomes. Consequently, organizations need to proactively and actively address it.

Promote Respect in the Workplace

Organizations should always encourage respectful and professional behaviour in the workplace. A zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate behaviours demonstrates the organization respects and values the people that choose to work with them.

All complaints should receive serious, confidential, prompt attention, whether an individual files a formal complaint, or not.

The Importance for Organizations

Bullying and harassment has many far-reaching negative effects on organizations including:

  • Increased absenteeism, turnover, and accidents/incidents
  • Increased recruitment and legal costs
  • Decreased productivity, motivation, and morale
  • Damaged organizational image
  • Reduced customer confidence and service

The Importance for Employees

Bullying and harassment also negatively affects the well-being and health of workers as well as job tenure, job stability and job satisfaction and their life away from work (1). Known potential effects include:

  • Shock, anger, frustration, helplessness, and vulnerability
  • Inability to concentrate; reduced productivity
  • Low morale and loss of confidence in the organization, themselves, and others
  • Physical symptoms including insomnia, appetite loss, depression, headaches, digestive issues, high blood pressure, anxiety, and panic attacks
  • Increased stress and tension between family, management, and coworkers

What Constitutes Bullying & Harassment

The following examples provided by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety identify some, but not all, bullying or harassing behaviours (2):
  • Spreading malicious rumours, gossip, or innuendo
  • Socially excluding or isolating an individual
  • Pestering, stalking, or spying on an individual
  • Intimidating, abusing, criticizing, belittling, or threatening an individual; verbally, physically, or in writing
  • Undermining or deliberately impeding an individual’s work
  • Assigning unreasonable duties, deadlines, or workloads
  • Changing work guidelines and responsibilities without cause Making ‘obviously offensive’ jokes, orally or in writing
  • Doling out unwarranted punishment
  • Blocking employee opportunities for training, leave or promotion
Sometimes it may be difficult to determine which actions should be considered bullying or harassment. The CCOHS suggest employers ask themselves, “Would most people consider the action unacceptable?”

Employer Legal Responsibilities

Almost all jurisdictions include harassment legislation governing the workplace. Additionally, federal and provincial human right laws may protect individuals if harassment relates to race, ethnicity, age, sex or sexual orientation, and more.

When no legislation exists, employers are held responsible under the general duty clause of Canada’s Labour Code which states, “Every employer shall ensure that the health and safety at work of every person employed by the employer is protected.” This includes risk from physical and mental harm.

Bullying & Harassment Policy

Every organization needs a bullying and harassment workplace policy. Policy development should involve management and employee representatives.

The policy should include clear examples and describe the confidential reporting process for violations and the appointed representative to handle complaints.

The policy must define what the organization considers harassment and bullying in precise language and demonstrate how it is committed to prevention.

Employer Procedures

Employers must implement procedures to ensure a reasonable and full response to reports or incidents of bullying and harassment and to prevent or minimize reoccurrence (3).

Procedures should include how to report an incident, and how and when the organization will conduct investigations, including what evidence and information is permitted. The organization should also outline record-keeping requirements.

Organizational procedures should also outline the roles and responsibilities of employers, supervisors, workers, investigators, witnesses, and union representatives, when applicable.

The organization should also describe what the worker can expect after the investigation, including time frame, corrective actions, and how they will deal with an individual’s adverse symptoms, if the occur.

Once finalized, the organization needs to familiarize all parties with their policy and procedures around workplace bullying and harassment.

This includes management, employees, clients, and independent contractors.

Employee Responsibilities

Workers who experience or witness bullying or harassment in the workplace must report it to the employer. Ideally, they should keep a detailed factual journal of events, including date, time, witnesses, and actions. Workers are expected to cooperate with investigators.

If the employer does not take reasonable steps, the employee may pursue other avenues available. These may include the Ministry of Labour, the Human Rights Commission, labour standards organizations, and/or legal counsel.

Works Cited

  1. Harassment in Canadian Workplaces. December 17, 2018. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2018001/article/54982-eng.htm#a8
  2. Bullying in the Workplace. December 1, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/psychosocial/bullying.html
  3. Employer Fact Sheet – Workplace Bullying and Harassment. October, 2013. Retrieved from https://www.worksafebc.com/en/resources/health-safety/information-sheets/employer-fact-sheet-workplace-bullying-and-harassment?lang=en

Effective Communication

Effective communication is essential to organizational success as it enables informed decision making and it creates transparency and accountability. Working from a common knowledge base helps organizations eliminate confusion and future problems.

Address Multiple Levels

Organizational communication must be addressed at many levels. For instance, clear and timely communication is vital to the board of directors to ensure everyone has the information they need to make sound decisions.

Communication between the board and staff ensures what’s decided in the boardroom filters through to those doing the work.

Communication from the staff to the board provides important feedback so the board can measure the effectiveness of initiatives and quickly correct problems.

Communication from the board of directors to members is paramount to success too. If members do not understand the reasoning behind decisions, it can cause discontent or alienation. In turn, this can lead to a loss of confidence in leaders and sometimes the decision making process.

Finally, the organization must be able to effectively communicate their vision and goals to external parties. Dealing with third-parties properly involves clarifying the organization’s position to avoid misunderstanding and future problems.

Develop & Refine Your Communication Strategy

As communication is so important on so many levels, organizations should establish a communication strategy.

A communication strategy describes how the organization will approach communication to attain its vision and goals. It also includes how it will handle word-of-mouth information, printed materials, press conferences, media, community outreach, special events, and more.
Finally, it defines the responsibilities of those involved in the process, starting with the Board of Directors.

This roadmap can create long-term success and keep everyone on the same page.

Clarify Communication Roles

The Chairperson of the Board is the Board’s official spokesperson. They comment on governance issues, governmental matters, changes to the board, and other matters. They may also comment on behalf of the CEO in their absence.

The CEO is the primary spokesperson on operational matters such as human resources and facilities and services. They may appoint someone from management to comment on specific matters such as finances. They are also the key interface between the staff and board.

The secretary records meeting minutes and maintains the corporation’s documents and records. They ensure the board has access to the information they need to make decisions.

Board members should understand their roles and responsibilities from the moment they are recruited as some information will be confidential. A communication policy describing their duties can help avoid potential problems, including legal ramifications.

Communication responsibilities may also fall on the shoulders of staff, committee members, or community members. Each needs to understand their responsibilities and limitations and this information should be included in the communication policy.

Proper Meeting Protocols

Board and committee meetings are where most decisions occur within an organization. To avoid misunderstanding, ensure transparency, protect confidentiality, and ensure efficiency organizations must follow proper meeting protocols.

Attention to procedure is particularly appropriate where the matters to be dealt with at a meeting are expected to be contentious. Robert’s Rules of Order is the most commonly accepted procedure followed by organizations and recommended for all organizational meetings of importance.

The foundation of an effective meeting starts with a clear, focused agenda. It is shared well in advance of a meeting with all attendees. When the meeting is called to order, attendees work through the agenda one item at a time and the secretary records meeting minutes.

Minutes provide a short version of all important discussions and decisions. They can be referenced for clarity, accountability, and as a legal record of what transpired. Procedures often vary between in-camera board meetings and public meetings with the board.

Communicate Outside of Meetings

Interactions must occur outside of the boardroom if an organization is to succeed. Communicating effectively involves building relationships.

Openness and transparency is imperative and board members should strive to interact on a personal level with the staff, each other, members, and external stakeholders, whenever possible.

Board leadership can collaborate remotely when in-person meetings aren’t practical or feasible. A quick call or email keeps parties up-to-date and can highlight roadblocks or concerns. However, in most cases decisions should be made at formal meetings.

Establish Collaboration Tools

Organizations must establish effective communication channels. They must decide which information can be shared via email and what must be protected.

Tools that track tasks are also very important. For instance, during a meeting it may be necessary to delegate a task to an individual. Board management tools can be used to follow up and eliminate confusion.

Organizations also need to store and share documents, some with access restrictions to protect confidentiality. Others will be made available to members to demonstrate transparency.

Continually Evaluate Your Communication Strategy

Organizational communication strategies should evolve. Some strategies will work well, while others won’t. Situations can change without notice and an organization’s approach must reflect that.

As a result, it is important to measure progress, success, and failures. If the board decides on change, they must properly document it and distribute it to employees and members to eliminate confusion. These parties aren’t usually privy to discussions held behind boardroom doors and this information helps everyone work cohesively.

However, the board must also measure the effectiveness of new changes. Asking for feedback, tracking miscommunications, and measuring productivity are often good yardsticks.

Sahetxw – Chairing Effective Meetings

Meetings are meant for idea sharing, coming to an agreement on issues, and establishing the steps to carry out decisions. The chairperson plays a lead role in this process and is paramount to organizational success.

Duties of the Chairperson

The chairperson plans and conducts meetings. The chair arranges the meeting place and sends adequate notice, finalizes agenda and ensures meeting packets are distributed to all attendees.

The chairperson also ensures attendees adhere to meeting conventions, while continually striving to maintain respect, inclusiveness, and fairness as the group conducts its business.

The chair also reviews and approves meeting minutes for accuracy and assigns appropriate persons or committees to follow up action items.

Lead by Example

The chairperson confidently conducts the meeting and sets the tone, but doesn’t dominate the conversation. The chair seeks member input and keeps proceedings on track. Consequently, a good chairperson is amicable, focused, well-prepared, and timely.

On meeting day, the chair arrives early with all relevant documents in hand, including the finalized agenda. The chair introduces him- or herself to new attendees.

At the scheduled meeting time, the chair welcomes everyone and starts the meeting promptly. The chair treats members with respect, listens carefully, and encourages participation by all members.

Understand Meeting Rules

The accepted standard for facilitating discussions, group decision-making, and fair and orderly meetings is Robert’s Rules of Order. These rules allow the full membership to participate on an equal footing using the same language.

The chairperson should possess a fundamental knowledge of Robert’s Rules to conduct a productive meeting. Otherwise, members may not have an opportunity to express their opinions or the decisions may not be legal or fair, if they’re made at all.

Meeting etiquette is also essential. The chair may ask participants to put their cellphone on silent mode during the meeting. They may also ask attendees to leave the room if they must take a call and remind participants that they should not interrupt others when they have the floor.

Stick to the Agenda

Whether a meeting is formal or informal, no one wants to waste their valuable time. Sticking to the agenda ensures the group covers items within the allotted time.

However, some members may dominate the conversation or steer away from the agenda. The chairperson’s role is to refocus the discussion so the meeting can continue on the topic. This may include ending the discussion and moving onto the next agenda item if the situation merits it.

Hone Interpersonal Skills

Sometimes members are very passionate about issues and may react without thoroughly understanding an issue. Other times they may act out because they adamantly disagree. However, majority rules and the chairperson may need to gently remind them of this principle.

The chair needs to have strong interpersonal skills to calm members and clarify misunderstandings.

Otherwise, it’s challenging to carry on, let alone coming to an amicable decision.

The chairperson must also communicate clearly and directly with members to accurately convey their message. This includes eye contact while speaking to an individual and non-threatening body language and tone.

The chairperson is also a goodwill ambassador and will summarize achievements and thank members for their contributions at the end of the meeting. By creating a positive, productive environment, members are more likely to participate in future meetings which strengthen representatives’ participation and lead to better decisions.