Safety Yardsticks: Harassment, Bullying, Respect

By Kit Goldman, President and Founder, Workplace Training Network, Inc.

Three important measurements of safety in your workplace are:

  • Your team’s awareness of the risks harassment and bullying can pose
  • Their commitment to respectful conduct
  • Supervisors and employees who know the warning signs of violence and what to do if they occur

Training is essential for achieving all three!

Ok, picture the following scenario. You’re a manager dealing with a difficult employee. We’ll call him “Jeff”. Jeff was great for a while – even employee of the month — but lately, there have been performance issues.

So, you schedule a meeting with Jeff. He shows up 20 minutes late, full of the usual “dog ate my homework” excuses. You’ve already given verbal warnings about lateness, missed deadlines, errors, and hostile behavior toward co-workers.

Now you’ve got to write him up. What choice do you have? Yes, you know he’s going through a divorce, custody issues, financial problems and you don’t want to pile on, but hey — you’re a manager, not a therapist. You’re responsible for your department’s bottom line. If you don’t attend to that, everyone will be out of a job.

You tell him he’s getting a written warning. He gets hostile, agitated. You’re in each other’s face. He accuses you of ignoring harassment and bullying by other employees who have it in for him. He says you knew about it but didn’t do anything.

It’s true, you saw some things going on – demeaning comments about his ethnicity, rumors about his sexual orientation, references to some snarky social media postings about him. It didn’t seem all that serious plus it involved some of your top producers. You didn’t want to rock their boat – and even if you did, you weren’t sure exactly what to do about it.

You listen to Jeff, try to be sympathetic. You remind him everyone has personal problems, including you, but they stay outside when you come to work. You suggest the world has gotten too PC and we all could use with some “toughening up”.

He looks at you, gets very calm and says, “Yeah, don’t worry about it then. I’ll do what I need to do”. You take that as assurance.

This is from the live action episode in our online BIS “Workplace Violence Awareness and Prevention” course. What do you think? Had the manager received effective training in how to handle the issues that arose? How would you assess the safety risks in this situation? In the discussion following the scene, we explore that and more.

In real life, these situations usually work out fine. Only a small percentage go terribly wrong. But when they do….well, we see the headlines. It can prove tragic and lethal. It can rip the fabric of even the strongest organizations.

When workplace violence incidents are first investigated, people often say they didn’t see it coming. Upon further investigation, warning signs almost always emerge which others missed, or chose to ignore.

Most people have pretty good internal alarm systems. But there are obstacles to action when those alarms go off, such as:

  • Aversion to conflict
  • Discomfort with emotion
  • Lack of knowledge &/or confidence re: policies & procedures
  • Perceived lack of time for “non-bottom line” issues
  • Desire to stay out of others’ personal business
  • Fear of snitching
  • Fear of retaliation

People commonly think of workplace violence only as physical assault, but according to the CCOHS it is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment. When measuring the safety of your workplace, be aware of:

  • Threatening behavior – such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects.
  • Verbal or written threats – any expression of an intent to inflict harm.
  • Harassment – behavior that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome. This includes words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities.
  • Verbal abuse – swearing, insults or condescending language.
  • Physical attacks – hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.

Many provinces require training on Harassment and Bullying. However, the need for such training goes far beyond compliance. We live in a pressure cooker world. The quality of our workplace and the products and services we provide demand that it be a safe, respectful place for employees to work and succeed.

Click here to learn more about WTN’s Workplace Violence Training.