Workplace bullying goes by many different names – harassment, abusive supervision, mobbing, antisocial work behaviours, workplace incivility, aggression and ostracism.
A definition commonly accepted by industrial psychology researchers is negative behaviour directed towards one or more members of a workplace that is recurring, persistent and continuous, typically occurring for at least six months.
The negative behaviour that might constitute bullying includes:
- Withholding of information that affects your performance
- Being ordered to work below your level of competence
- Having your opinions ignored
- Unreasonable deadlines, excessive workload or excessive monitoring of your work
- Pressure not to claim something you’re entitled to (e.g. sick leave, vacation, expenses)
- Being ridiculed in connection to your work
- Having key areas of responsibility removed or replaced with more trivial or unpleasant tasks
- Gossip and rumours spread about you
- Being ignored or being excluded or met with hostility
- Offensive remarks about your person, attitudes, or private life
- Hints that you should quit your job
- Repeated reminders of mistakes
- Practical jokes, excessive teasing or sarcasm carried out by people you don’t get along with
- Invalid allegations made against you
- Being shouted at, shoved, or personal space invaded
- Threats of violence of physical abuse
Imbalance of power
There is nearly always some imbalance of power involved. The majority (about 65%) of workplace bullying situations involve a supervisor towards a subordinate. About 35% of cases are peer to peer, and less than 1% of bullying is focused upwards.
Workplace bullying affects everyone. A victim will expend much emotion trying to comprehend what is happening and why. They become at great risk for mental and physical health problems. They often respond by engaging in negative behaviour themselves and it becomes a vicious cycle. Many victims of bullying end up losing their jobs.
Even those at a workplace who aren’t directly involved are affected by bullying. Employees who see others being bullied experience higher levels of negativity and lower job satisfaction than those not exposed to such acts. Workplaces will have less productivity and higher levels of turnover, resulting in escalating stress within the workplace.
Difficult to prove
Collective agreements often have a provision prohibiting harassment and bullying. The difficulty is that sometimes what is perceived as workplace bullying is actually a legitimate exercise of management rights or is just a personality clash – or, at least, it will be defended as that. Proving a case of bullying at arbitration is extremely difficult. Arbitrators require clear evidence of behaviour that, viewed objectively, is well over the top of what should occur in the workplace.
Often a few incidents alone are not enough, but when there is a series of them, it becomes apparent that bullying is going on. If you think you’re being bullied at work, we encourage you to talk to a union advocate or your business agent and to keep a diary of the incidents. Include the date, what happened, any witnesses, and how you feel.
Everyone needs to help
Workplace bullying is hard to address. It’s hard to admit you’ve been bullied and uncomfortable to confront a bully. But we have to talk about it. We have to work to be vigilant and work together to stop it. We have to examine our own behaviour and how it affects others. We have to stand up for ourselves and coworkers. Do not ignore and do not delay.
Addressing workplace bullying head-on and early-on can prevent escalation. If someone has engaged in a negative act towards you, it often helps to talk to the person involved. You may find there were valid reasons behind the behaviour. Or, that the person wasn’t even aware of what they have done – it’s only in the rarest of cases that anyone actually willfully engages in bullying activity.
NSUPE members are encouraged to call a member of their Local Executive, a union advocate, their business agent, or use the Employee and Family Assistance Plan if your employer has made that service available.
For more information on workplace bullying, check out
Note: This content was originally published as a Did You Know? bulletin written for Local 14.