Harassment and abuse on the job continue to plague many Canadian workplaces, according to a Statistics Canada study. Almost one-fifth (19 per cent) of women and 13 per cent of men reported they suffered some form of harassment in the past year, according to Harassment in Canadian Workplaces. The study said harassment can range from interpersonal mistreatment, such as disrespect, condescension and degradation, to more physical forms of harassment such as physical assault, sexual assault, bullying or the threat of harm.
The problem of harassment in the workplace is most acute for health-care workers, with 22 per cent reporting an incident of abuse during the past year, according to Statistics Canada. Women (53 per cent) are also more likely to say they received harassment from a client or customer than men (42 per cent).
Statistics Canada also found about 47 per cent of men and 34 per cent of women who had been harassed by a supervisor or manager had a weak sense of belonging to their current organization, compared with 16 per cent of both women and men who said they had not been harassed at work in the past year.
One way to get out in front of workplace harassment and abuse is to adopt a more stringent education regime, said Dan Boucher, director of regulatory affairs research at the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) Alberta in Calgary.
“Our research indicates the most successful tool for reducing harassment involves workplace training,” he said. “For managers and front-line supervisors, they need training that’s going to help them enforce the zero-tolerance policy around harassment.”
Training also needs to be underscored for those who witness workplace abuse, according to Kent Highnam, program director at the School of Health, Community & Social Justice at the Justice Institute of British Columbia in Vancouver.
“To say that ‘We’re going to bully-proof targets’ or ‘We’re going to hunt down all the bullies’ is probably not advisable or even possible. We try to address the bystanders as the most prevalent and the most influential component of creating (a positive) workplace environment,” he said.
But that training needs to be followed up with a culture shift, which must begin with the C-suite.
“They set the tone and they communicate in a lot of ways by their actions what the company culture is,” said Boucher.”If you have a culture that accepts harassment, that’s going to embolden harassers, and it’s going to dissuade people from reporting harassment.”
Communicating an anti-harassment message to clients and customers is also crucial to preventing workplace abuse, according to Highnam.
“Often, people don’t realize that the obligations of creating a safe and respectful workplace extend to service providers and contractors.“
Even though employers might be reluctant to chastise customers for uncivil behaviour towards employees, it is a necessary endeavour, said Wendy Giuffre, president of Wendy Ellen HR consultancy in Calgary.
“If you become aware of an abusive situation with a client, you have to show that you’re protecting your employees and that you don’t tolerate that inside your organization or outside your organization,” she said. “That’s a tough one because that’s money coming in the door — but you also have to show that you stand up for your employees.”
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of COS.