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Managing Workplace Bullying

I have been involved in many conversations of late regarding the issue of managing workplace bullying.  A luncheon sponsored by our Calgary Consortium for Civility, Respect & Dignity at Work a few weeks ago centered on repairing the harm from conflict, bullying & harassment.  I am supporting a dialogue today at noon with the ADR Institute of Alberta focused on ‘Is Mediation an Appropriate Response in Workplace Bullying?’  These are all great conversations to help us untangle these complex issues that can negatively affect our workplaces.

There are varying definitions of bullying, but let’s refer to the new Alberta OHS Act which defines bullying under harassment:

“Harassment” means any single incident or repeated incidents of objectionable or unwelcome conduct, comment, bullying or action by a person that the person knows or ought reasonably to know will or would cause offence or humiliation to a worker, or adversely affects the worker’s health and safety..”

An Australian safety organization, Safety Concepts has developed a mini self-assessment to support individuals to determine if they are the target of workplace bullying.  I share it here in case it can be helpful.  It provides detailed information regarding bullying behaviours that may be evident in the workplace in these situations.

Another Australian organization, a group of dispute resolution academics – the ADR Research Network published an article in 2017,  “There is a time and place for mediation but a bullying allegation in the workplace is not one”.   In the article they share thoughts on how mediation fits with workplace bullying situations.

In our discussion today, Dr. Pat Ferris, a Calgary psychologist and expert on workplace bullying and harassment will share factors to consider when approaching mediation.  Factors such as;

  • How escalated is the conflict?
  • What is the spectrum of behaviours?
  • How insightful is the source?
  • What is the desire for resolution from both parties?
  • What is the power differential?
  • What is the organizational culture regarding bullying?
  • How voluntary is the process?

So, if the situation is not suitable for mediation what other options are there to support the target and manage the source?  Perhaps its performance management including termination if an investigation establishes wrong-dong.  Coaching or treatment for each party involved including counselling, especially for the target.  Ensuring that the organization is assessing their culture and the role it plays in propagating these attitudes and behaviours. Facilitating restorative practices in cases where targets and sources are seeking resolution.  This can provide the target with a safe space to hear from the source and enable the source to take a step in repairing the harm.

These situations are always complex and difficult for organizations to manage.  In my experience many organizations want to step in and find a healthy way forward for all employees.   Let’s keep the conversation going as we work to find solutions that fit each situation.

No one heals himself by wounding another.”-  St. Ambrose of Milan

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