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The Canadian Press

Companies must deal with workplace bullies or lose brightest employees: expert

Canadian Press - various newspapers across Canada, May 08, 2006

VANCOUVER (CP) - Businesses that want to improve their bottom line would do well to purge the bullies on the payroll who are repeatedly ridiculing and humiliating others in the workplace, says a psychologist.

Gary Namie told an overflow audience Monday that people who are targeted at the office by a supervisor or co-worker may think they're alone, but their numbers are growing to epidemic proportions.

Namie, who co-founded the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute in Bellingham, Wash., was speaking at the Western Conference on Safety.

He said a Michigan study found about one in six employees is bullied at work in any given year.

In Britain, about 11 per cent of people say they face psychological harassment in the workplace, while in Australia the number is 18 per cent, he said.

But when people are asked if they've ever been bullied at work, 40 to 50 per cent of them say they have, Namie said.

"People are getting fed up with bullying and it's got to be addressed," Namie said before he spoke.

In Canada, Quebec is the only jurisdiction in North America with legislation to deal with workplace psychological harassment, but Namie said the law that came into effect in 2004 is too weak.

"I think it's imprecise," he said, adding complainants must face a huge government labyrinth.

Those who are psychologically harassed at work are often better skilled at their jobs than the bullies who target them but are forced to quit their jobs because they're non-confrontational, he said.

"It's a talent flight. The best and the brightest are driven out. The slugs, the slow-minded, dimwitted sycophants are the bully's allies."

Thirty per cent of women who are targeted experience post-traumatic stress disorder, Namie said. "Bullies are too expensive to keep. It's smart business to purge these guys and gals - and 58 per cent are women."

Stephen Hill, who runs a support group called No Bully For Me, said he worked for a non-profit organization at a British Columbia university when he was the target of workplace bullying by supervisors and co-workers.

"You know, monkey see, monkey do," said Hill, who finally quit his job when he started having health problems.

Hill said he would be asked to provide reports but was denied the information, was given the cold shoulder at meetings and was repeatedly isolated.

"It's the fact that it's continuous, that's what does the damage."

Four years ago, Hill co-founded a web site that became a huge hit with people across Canada and also spawned support groups in various cities.

People often say they can't afford to leave their jobs but Hill's advice is: "Get out."

A national survey on the group's web site (www.nobullyforme.org) appears to suggest that most bullies are women and co-workers, not bosses, Hill said, who took two years off from work to recover.

Hill now helps the unemployed on Vancouver tough downtown eastside find jobs.

Renzo Bertolini, a health and safety specialist with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, said it's hard to track the number of people who are bullied.

"Not every single bullying incidence is reported because often bullying does not result in an accident or injury and there is no compensation claim," Bertolini said from Hamilton.

The Quebec law, modelled after those in Sweden, France and Belgium, gives the province's labour standards board the authority to order fines and the reinstatement of employees.

The agency handles complaints from non-union employees. Unionized workers must file complaints through their union.

Nathalie Bejin, a spokeswoman for the Quebec Labour Standards Board, said 4,700 complaints have been filed since the law was enacted.

Bejin said the board encourages businesses to prevent psychological harassment by stepping in when conflicts arise between employees.

Ethel Archard, spokeswoman for the Canada Safety Council, said workplace bullying is a huge issue that isn't getting enough attention across the country, except in Quebec.

"I think the interest in the topic is shown by the fact that it is the single-most visited web page on our entire website, so we know that people are looking for information. They're desperately looking for information."

Despite skyrocketing claims for stress resulting from psychological harassment in the workplace, the issue doesn't appear to be adequately addressed, Archand said.

"Quebec took a look at this as a business issue because it's a tremendous drain on productivity. This should be a real issue for businesses because they could be losing their best people."

The Canadian Press, 2006


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