More than half of Canadians say they, a co-worker, or both have been bullied on the job — but while the majority reported it to their employer, only one-third of workplaces took action, according to a new nationwide survey.
A random sampling of more than 1,800 Canadians found that overall, 55 per cent were bullied or had co-workers who were bullied on the job. For some demographics, the figures were even more stark: 61 per cent of older workers between 55 and 64 reported being impacted by bullying, as did 67 per cent of employees who identified as disabled.
“We hear a lot about bullying in schools but almost nothing about what goes on in the workplace, so that was one of the reasons for doing the polls,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Toronto-based polling firm Forum Research, which conducted the survey.
“A lot of workplace bullying is being reported. But then we asked, did the employer take action, and the majority said no,” he added. “Which is kind of surprising because you’d think employers in this day and age would be more careful about this.”
The most common form of bullying amongst all workers was verbal, according to the Forum survey, with 58 per cent reporting this type of behaviour. Almost a quarter reported experiencing physical bullying.
“Maybe employers aren’t recognizing it as a workplace issue so much because we are hearing about it as a school issue not a workplace issue,” said Bozinoff.
“The spot of good news is if the employer does take action, it tends to be effective. The issue seems more to be getting the employer to do something, because if they actually do something, two-thirds (of workers) are reporting it was effective.”
Under Ontario health and safety laws, employers are required to have a workplace harassment policy that includes measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment; they also have a general duty to protect workers from risks on the job, including physical and mental harm. British Columbia is the only province that has developed policies specifically addressing workplace bullying.
This year, Ontario’s workers’ compensation board began allowing chronic mental stress claims, which could include claims for psychological damage caused by long-term workplace bullying
Jana L. Raver, a professor of organization behaviour at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business, said bullying can create “a tremendous amount of psychological health and emotional problems.
“It starts to manifest in physical health symptoms,” she said.
“The best predictors of workplace bullying are situational,” she added. “The types of contexts where bullying is really likely to flourish are stressful workplaces where there is a lot of work overload, work conflict, low job autonomy, people don’t have the resources they need to do their job, and there’s a lot of insecurity.”
Raver said there’s been little research on the relationship between precarious work and bullying — but said given existing evidence, it would “make sense that people in precarious work would experience higher levels of bullying.”
“Because the employment arrangement is precarious or temporary, the individual may not wish to speak up even when they are aware of laws not being followed,” including laws around “stressful psychosocial working conditions” said Jan Chappel, senior occupational health and safety specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Chappel said employees who believe they are being bullied on the job should contact the person listed on their workplace harassment policy, a supervisor, or a union representative.
“Employers should be cognizant of encouraging reporting of (bullying),” Bozinoff said. “And they should also think about vulnerable groups. There were not differences in all indicators but in some there were in a negative direction”
“The policy and code of conduct is just the beginning. You have to translate the expectations that actually make it normative,” Raver told the Star, adding another important predictor of workplace bullying is “leaders who look the other way.”
“I think employers need to recognize the prevalence of it,” Bozinoff said. “It’s a lot more prevalent than you might imagine.”
The survey results are considered accurate within two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz