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David Baxter

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Researchers warn bully bosses threaten productivity and office safety
May 16, 2004
by Chris Morris

FREDERICTON (CP) - For fed-up nurses at one New Brunswick hospital, the "code pink" is their unique way of coping with one of worst scourges of the modern workplace - the bully boss.

The nurses could no longer stand the vile temper and bad language directed at them by one particularly belligerent physician, but hospital administrators were not sympathetic. "They came up with a solution on their own to curb his behaviour," said Marilyn Noble, a Fredericton-based researcher in workplace bullying.

"When he is on a rant, they call a code pink. Any nurse who can spare the time comes and stands in a circle as a silent observer and watches him. The impact is he looks up, realizes there are witnesses who might report him and he shuts down."

Workplace bullies - people who target workers for intimidation, belittlement and humiliation - are themselves becoming the targets of individuals and groups promoting respectful and safe workplaces in Canada.

Marilyn Noble, one of two researchers studying workplace bullying at the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research in Fredericton, says she has been beseiged by people with stories to tell about bullies in their offices.

"There's a pent-up need to talk about this," said Noble, who will be conducting public forums across New Brunswick later this month to discuss bullying.

"If I talk to 100 people in social situations and I say I'm working on workplace bullying, there might be two people who look at me like I've got three heads, and there would be 98 who would grab me by the arm and say, 'Have I got a story for you."'

When Noble appeared recently on a CBC Radio phone-in show, the lines lit up with people talking about their grim situations in the workplace, including one man who said he was suicidal after dealing with a supervisor he described as a "sociopathic serial bully."

Heather Gray of Edmonton, president and CEO of the consulting firm Threat Assessment and Management Associates Inc., said there's much more at stake in controlling bullying than simply keeping workers happy and productive.

She said it's a major safety issue.

"Once in a while, we see people driven to such extremes they may lash out at the company, not only in the form of a lawsuit, but violently."

Gray points to the case of OC Transpo in Ottawa, where four employees were fatally shot in April 1999 by Pierre Lebrun, who then took his own life.

Lebrun had been teased and tormented for years by his co-workers at OC, but the company had never addressed the bullying problem.

Gray said she is particularly disturbed when companies boast that bullying tactics are their way of forcing people to quit.

She says companies need to be aware of the damage caused by those tactics.

"People are broken to the extent that if they aren't actively suicidal, they're seriously depressed," she said.

"Self-esteem is damaged to the point where they're not functioning well at work and in their personal relationships. It does an extraordinary amount of damage to the individual."

Gray said bullies have a number of traits in common.

They are usually in supervisory roles and their overriding objectives are power, domination and subjugation.

Noble said that sometimes bullying behaviour is unwitting, but more often it is deliberate.

"There are mean-spirited people who have no power or control in other parts of their life so they exercise it in the workplace," she said.

"Some of these people have very poor interpersonal skills and there are others who simply get glee out of putting other people down and making them squirm."

The targets of bullies also have traits in common.

Gray said they're generally good performers and are often targeted because of their competence, which may threaten the bully supervisor.

She remembers one case where workers in a specialized unit found themselves under the supervision of a person who did not fully understand the work being done.

She says the supervisor felt a need to prove himself by tormenting and humiliating the competent workers and within three years, six of the people in the unit - one-third of its workforce - had quit in disgust.

Gray says targeted workers are not wired the same way as the bully and most quit their jobs.

Although federal legislation is pending that will help protect federal public servants from workplace bullies, most legislation in Canada offers little or no help.

Noble says the ultimate solution is for companies and organizations to identify intervenors at every level of their operations, unbiased people to whom workers can go with a complaint.

"Otherwise, they have no place to turn," she says.
 

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Janeanne

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Thank you for this post. I sent this to a friend who is experiencing workplace bullying. The friend is in a professional position and is being bullied by an administrator who has a considerable amount of power over her. As it describes in the article concerning traits of the abused - my friend is extremely competent at what she does and she (my friend) mistakenly corrected the administrator at a meeting. My friend had been warned by most of the employees not to cross paths with that particular administrator. The administrator had limited or little knowledge of the topic that was being discussed....Now maybe my friend can implement her own "code pink". Thanks again for the submission!
 

David Baxter

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That sort of behavior is really quite widespread - and it often is the way you describe your friend's situation: a supervisor who is threatened by greater knowledge or skill or expertise in the employee and who therefore feels a need to keep the employee in his or her "place"...
 

under the sun

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Variation of Workplace bullying

It's been 1-1/2 years since this thread was started, but felt compelled to add to it.

I feel I am a victim of workplace bullying, but not in your usual sense.

I have a work colleague who
  • purposely leaves me off email distributions and other information;[/list:u]
    • spreads erroneous information about other people and events and when confronted, claims to taken it out of context (though it is very clear it was salacious);[/list:u]
      • makes unilateral decisions that have impacts on me and my duties, as well as others;[/list:u]
        • speaks ill of others (and me) and is quick to judge and point out flaws in everyone.[/list:u]
          This is particularly hard, since my psychiatrist diagnosed me with generalized anxiety and social phobia. Despite glowing performance evaluations, I still question my abilities and intelligence. Having a work colleague like this guy does not make things easier.

          Despite this, I have other colleagues who are very supportive of me of which I am grateful. I am also trying very hard to keep in mind that if he goes around being a curmudgeon and bad-mouthing people, it only looks bad on him.

          As a final note, this work colleague is over 60 years old, a former teacher, a former lawyer, and considers himself a "mercenary" to the organization in which we work.
 

under the sun

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Funnily enough, no.

The people I work with directly on assorted files are not the same people I report to, nor do they report to me. I do not report to the person I wrote about, nor does he report to my supervisor. It's all an interesting organizational chart.

My supervisor knows about my feelings of this colleague. Sadly, we're all pretty helpless about the situation.
 

David Baxter

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???

How is your supervisor helpless? What about your supervisior's supervisior?

This is Ontario. You might be surprised to learn about your rights under the Workplace Harassment regulations. Perhaps talking to your supervisors and letting them no you are making a formal request to have this person reined in (that's the first step you must take according to the Human Rights Commission). If that doesn't do it, follow it up with a written request for action.

Under Ontario law, if an employer is made aware of workplace harassment and does not take steps to end it, the employer is held to be equally responsible. That means the laws has a lot of teeth.

If nothing happens after the written request, you follow it up with a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. Make sure your employer understand this.
 

under the sun

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It's a little tricky.

I work for an organization whose Headquarters is outside of the province of Ontario. The office I work in is a satellite office in Ontario.

My supervisor and my colleagues of the same department are at HQ, as is this trouble-maker colleague.

It's a unique situation where we physically don't work in the same office and do not have the same supervisors, but his actions affect me and -- sadly -- my confidence.
 

Retired

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A study published about a year ago in the U.K. identified workplace bullies as exhibiting psychotic behaviour and workplace bullying as being a major cause of workplace related depression.

Unfortunately many employers refuse to recognize this behaviour as a problem because the bullies appear to be productive.

Examples of workplace bullying include:
  • someone withholding information which affects your performance
    having your opinions and views ignored
    being given tasks with unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines
    being given an unmanageable workload
    being ordered to do work below your competence
    having key areas of responsibility removed
    spreading gossip
    being humiliated or ridiculed in connection with your work
    being shouted at or the target of spontaneous anger
    Other bullying tactics include deliberately 'freezing' people out, and blocking leave and training applications for no reason.[/list:u]


    Who are the bullies?
    Professor Cary Cooper, BUPA professor of occupational psychology and health at UMIST, says there are two types of workplace bully:
    • the psychotic type, who has a personality defect and needs to put people down in order to boost their own self esteem
      the manager who himself feels overloaded and stressed and may not realize his or her actions are perceived as bullying [/list:u]
 

David Baxter

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Are they operating in Canada? If so, I'm pretty sure that they are subject to the Workplace Harassment legislation. Even if their headquarters are outside the country, they are operating here in Ontario and therefore are subject to our laws.
 

HA

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I am very offended and upset by the following psychologists' views on who the work place bullies are:
http://www.bupa.co.uk/health_information/html/healthy_living/emotional/bullying/

Professor Cary Cooper, BUPA professor of occupational psychology and health at UMIST, says there are two types of workplace bully:

1. the psychotic type, who has a personality defect and needs to put people down in order to boost their own self esteem

2. the manager who himself feels overloaded and stressed and may not realise his or her actions are perceived as bullying

"The first group are more of a worry as they need psychotherapy as well as training to help correct the problem," he says. "The second, much larger, group are often themselves victims of the work environment and also need help."

A bully can seem charming one minute, vicious the next. He or she often insists their way of doing things is right, then blames others when things go wrong. They also often change their instructions, perhaps hoping people will make mistakes.

It seems that perhaps this doctor was meaning to say psychopathic type and if that is the case then it is a very big error on his published work!

But it more likely is that he very well meant "psychotic type".

According to his definitions of what a workplace bully does:
someone withholding information which affects your performance
having your opinions and views ignored
being given tasks with unreasonable or impossible targets or deadlines
being given an unmanageable workload
being ordered to do work below your competence
having key areas of responsibility removed
spreading gossip
being humiliated or ridiculed in connection with your work
being shouted at or the target of spontaneous anger
Considering as well this information the Canada Safety Council:
http://www.safety-council.org/info/OSH/bullies.html
A workplace bully subjects the target to unjustified criticism and trivial fault-finding. In addition, he or she humiliates the target, especially in front of others, and ignores, overrules, isolates and excludes the target.

If the bully is the target's superior, he or she may: set the target up for failure by setting unrealistic goals or deadlines, or denying necessary information and resources; either overload the target with work or take all work away (sometimes replacing proper work with demeaning jobs); or increase responsibility while removing authority.

Regardless of specific tactics, the intimidation is driven by the bully's need to control others
.

This does not fit the profile of how someone with a psychotic illness lives their lives or behaves in the work place. As well it would be unethical to use psychotherapy without medication to treat psychosis.

The types of psychotic disorders include:

Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders

Schizophrenia: Catatonic | Disorganized | Paranoid | Residual | Undifferentiated

Schizophreniform Disorder

Schizoaffective Disorder

Delusional Disorder

Brief Psychotic Disorder

Shared Psychotic Disorder

Psychotic Disorder Due to a General Medical Condition with: Delusions | Hallucinations

Substance-Induced Psychotic Disorder

Psychotic Disorder NOS (298.9)

http://www.psychlinks.ca/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=1181 Please read further for the description of each at this link.

These psychotic disorders have symptoms that would cause confusion and disorganization not lack of empathy and gaining pleasure from causing ill will towards others.

Bully behaviour is more fitting to personality disorders not psychosis.

This kind of professional work in the field of mental health really upsets me!
 

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