Tomorrow, Wednesday February 27th, is Pink Shirt Day. It’s a day meant to bring awareness regarding the realities of bullying, and encourage meaningful conversations around the issue of how bullying can be prevented.
I recently attended an informative presentation about workplace bullying and inclusion given by Marli Rusen, an expert legal advisor in Labour Relations, Human Rights and Workplace Conflict. A concept that she really drove home was the fact that once managers are aware, or reasonably ought to be aware of bullying at the worksite, they are responsible to act.
Consider fictional employee Alison. Alison comes to work every day at 8am, and leaves right at 430pm. She does her work well, and she isn’t a demanding employee. Imagine that a new fictional employee Casey is hired. Casey and Alison don’t really get along, and all of a sudden Alison, the once regularly punctual employee starts arriving late on a regular basis, and leaving work early. She begins calling in sick every two weeks, and has asked to move to a new department. You don’t know why, and you don’t really confront her about the changes to her behaviour until it’s time to begin disciplining her tardiness.
There’s no need to jump to conclusions with all employees, but perhaps Alison’s been avoiding Casey because she feels intimidated. Maybe she’s been changing her lunch patterns or parking her car in a location far from where she knows Casey parks.
This isn’t a ridiculous example, believe me.
Whenever you’re managing people, the question always comes back to responsibility. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that bullying is dealt with? Legally, it’s management’s responsibility at the worksite. And for anyone who witnesses bullying, it becomes their responsibility as well.
When you hire people, you gain a commitment from them that they will meet contractual expectations as an employee: they will attend work at specific times, they’ll complete their work to the best of their abilities, and they’ll contribute to a positive work environment. Likewise, when people commit to working for you, it becomes your responsibility to ensure that they are able to do their work; you must provide a safe place where employees can meet their commitment to you as an employer. Safety goes beyond WHMIS and ergonomics, and includes an emotionally safe environment free from bullying and all forms of harassment.
Once you are aware of bullying, or reasonably should have been aware, you become culpable. In other words, you become blameworthy for whatever transpires.
What do you do? You pay attention to your staff. Know what people are up to. Know who they are, and what kind of work they do. If this sounds ridiculous, then perhaps you shouldn’t be in the business of managing people. If you are responsible for staff and feel like you don’t have the time, or it’s not important to know what’s actually going on in your workplace, then perhaps that’s a cue to you that you’re only ready to deal with yourself. Because when it comes to bullying and managing people, bullying is the tip iceberg – and there’s a landslide and freezing water to follow!
There’s no need to go into details of what can happen if bullying persists because the imagination can take us there all on our own.
Pink Shirt Day was an initiative that began to bring awareness to schoolyard bullying. But the reality is that bullying exists everywhere: at universities, on job sites, and in parks. What differentiates workplace bullying is that if you manage staff, you must be aware that it is your legal responsibility to act when bullying takes place, period.