Canadian Children's Rights Council
Conseil canadien des droits des enfants
Virtual Library of Newspaper Articles

The Canadian Press

Workplace bullies tend to be women
Victims often more skilled than their attackers, U.S. expert says

Canadian Press, Tuesday, May 09, 2006

VANCOUVER -- A new study suggests that the majority of workplace bullies are female co-workers who target other women with less talent, and experts suggest that businesses that want to improve their bottom line would do well to purge the bullies from the payroll who are repeatedly ridiculing and humiliating others in the workplace.

Gary Namie told an overflow audience in Vancouver on 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.

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 website 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 website (www.nobullyforme.org) appears to suggest that most bullies are women (60 per cent) and co-workers, not bosses, Hill said, who took two years off from work to recover. He now helps the unemployed on the 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, 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."

Global National 2006