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Halting bullies key to a respectful workplace

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first.

Read about the 2017 winners of the award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward. Register your company for 2018 at www.employeerecommended.com before the Nov. 17, 2017 deadline.

Have you ever felt you have been bullied or harassed at work? Have you observed a colleague being bullied or harassed?

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Many organizations are starting to understand the link between a respectful workplace and employees' mental health. In Canada, employee absence due to bullying and harassment is estimated to cost $12-billion per year, according to Statistics Canada.

One study suggested that 35 per cent of employees said they have been bullied at work and 17 per cent quit their jobs because of bullying. Another study suggested that 15 per cent have witnessed bullying, and 45 per cent of people bullied suffer from stress-related problems.

In 2014, The Globe and Howatt HR launched the Your Life at Work Survey that's still online today and is a tool that helps to measure individuals' quality of work life. In support of the study, we ran articles on topics such as respectful workplace and bullying and how that impacts an employee's mental health. We included a short risk survey on this topic.

For the bullying survey there were 821 participants. Here are some findings from this survey:

· The average score was 23, which falls in the Moderate Risk category. At this level, it's suggested to act immediately to better understand your rights as an employee, and to find a safe support system to make an action plan to deal with current risks at your workplace.

· 38 per cent of respondents fell in the Red Zone, which was high risk; 31 per cent in the Moderate Risk category; 20 per cent were in the Low Risk category; and 12 per cent of respondents said bullying was not an issue for them. The purpose was to indicate to participants their current degree of risk and to provide recommendations for action.

· Each of the 15 survey items had four possible responses: Not at all; It happened once; It has happened and it hurt; and It often feels like this is my daily reality.

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The top three items with the highest risk scores were: "I have had at least one person at work trying to sabotage me;" "I believe I have been bullied by one or more peers;" and "I have spent energy to avoid one person out of fear."

This survey is meant to educate on the degree of risk from overt and covert bullying. It doesn't measure the risk of other types of bullying, such as via online and e-mail, which can be just as negative.

Awareness

With advances in legislation such as Ontario's Bill 168 that focuses on bullying and Bill 132 that addresses sexual violence and organizational policies, every employee and employer – regardless of size, sector and industry – is advised to know what constitutes bullying and harassment. This can help create the degree of civility that prevents a toxic workplace that breeds unacceptable social standards and behaviours that can damage employees' psychological health.

Accountability

Experiencing or observing bullying or harassment can be damaging to a person's mental health, and is not to be taken lightly by a victim or an employer. Stopping bullying and harassment requires employees and employers to work together to enforce a no-tolerance policy. Only through a two-way accountability system can a culture achieve its full potential to be a psychologically safe workplace.

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Action

Victims of bullying need to have the knowledge and skills to cope with bullying and to advocate for themselves in order to prevail. Employers must consider a respectful workplace as a core day-to-day objective and be committed to enforcing policies, procedures, and promoting effective, respectful workplace training and leaders' training to prevent, confront and discipline bullies and harassers.

Employee coaching for increasing self-advocacy:

-Learn the different types of bullying and harassment, to prevent rationalizing inappropriate behaviour as being okay. Take your respectful workplace training seriously and understand your organization's procedures for finding a resolution. Some employees are not aware how some forms of overt or covert behaviours are not appropriate in the workplace and will not be tolerated. Complete the bullying quick survey that demonstrates some of these.

-Be prepared. Every employee's and leader's role is to stop unwanted and inappropriate behaviour to themself and others. Being prepared and having a support system ready in case you observe or are a victim of bullying or harassment can give you confidence to go through the process required to confront an offender. As well, it can be helpful to understand how a company's employee and family assistance programs can support employees' mental health through the entire reporting and resolution process.

Employer coaching for creating a psychologically safe workplace:

-Evaluate the impact of respectful workplace training on employees' ability to self-advocate. Don't assume that having a policy is enough. Respectful workplace training is critical for teaching the different types of bullying and harassment that can happen in the workplace. Survey employees using a formal survey and focus groups to discover and understand employees' confidence to confront bullying and harassment, and the degree they trust that their employer cares about their psychological and physical health and safety.

-Provide all leaders with the training they need to confront bullies and harassers who are on the fringe of or are actively bullying or harassing an employee. The end goal is to ensure that every leader has the knowledge, skills and a plan to confront at-risk behaviours. Leaders can leverage EFAP managers and support lines to get coaching on how to deal with a situation of bullying or harassment in the workplace.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

Register today for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at www.employeerecommended.com

Read more columns like this, and read about the winners and finalists of the 2017 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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