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HR Must be Leaders in Stopping Workplace Bullying

Forty per cent of Canadians have experienced one or more acts of workplace bullying at least once a week for a period of six months according to a study conducted by Jacqueline Power, an assistant professor of management at the University of Windsor’s Odette School of Business (Globe & Mail, December 2011).

Bullying in the workplace is often called the silent epidemic because people don’t report it and witnesses don’t speak up. Often the organization culture of the organization supports bullying behaviour especially in competitive or fast-paced environments. Because of this, the statistics could actually be much higher than 40% especially if you include people who have witnessed bullying. Perhaps part of the problem comes from the fact that people don’t realize what constitutes bullying behaviour in the first place.


What is the definition of workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying, like childhood bullying, is the tendency of individuals or groups to use persistent aggressive or unreasonable behavior against a co-worker or subordinate. Workplace bullying can include such tactics as verbal, non-verbal, psychological, physical abuse and humiliation. This type of aggression is particularly difficult because, unlike the typical forms of school bullying, workplace bullies often operate within the established rules and policies of their organization and their society. Bullying in the workplace is in the majority of cases reported as having been perpetrated by management and takes a wide variety of forms. Bullying can be covert or overt but it’s always bad (Wikipedia).

Ontario Health Promotion provides a great list that you can use to help educate your workplace about bullying behaviour:

  • punishing others by constantly criticizing them or removing their responsibilities or giving trivial tasks as punishment;
  • refusing to delegate because they don’t trust anyone or wish to monopolize the benefits;
  • shouting and name calling directed at staff often in a public forum;
  • innuendo, deliberate silence, rude gestures and aggressive posturing;
  • persistently picking on people in front of others or in private;
  • keeping people in their place by blocking their promotion;
  • various forms of work interference such as sabotaging the effort of others;
  • reprisals by overloading an individual with work and reducing time frames;
  • insisting that that there is only one way to do things right…their way; and
  • other behaviours that are intended to isolate and undermine the intended victim(s).


HR’s role is to be a strong employee advocate.

As HR professionals, we must take a leading role in preventing and eliminating bullying in the workplace. We are often the first point of contact for the victim of bullying. We wear many hats, but one of our most important roles is to be a strong employee advocate.  Sometimes I get “smirks” and “eye rolling” when I say that.  You might think, “Isn’t HR’s role to be a business advocate?” Well, you can’t do business, create ideas, service your customers, make products, close deals, create invoices, and so much more, without people.


HR must be leaders in stopping workplace bullying.

HR can help create a safe place to work, where employees are supported, developed, and engaged so that they work to their full potential for the company. When bullying takes root in an organization, employees don’t perform to their best potential because they wonder when the next outburst will take place. They dread coming to work and absenteeism increases. And even when they are at work, they aren’t working 100% because they are wondering when the next bully attack will take place.

HR professionals must be leaders in stopping workplace bullying. Let’s make sure we step up to the plate. What difficulties are you experiencing dealing with this very important workplace issue? How are you dealing with bullying in the workplace from an HR perspective?

For more information on this topic, please check out my blog series on Bullying in the Workplace.


  1. Love this reading! I must say that in the past while there has been so much on school bullying, I felt like starting a blog on work place bullying as well.
    Even thought we have policies in place in the work place about bill 168 and work place bullying, it’s still isn’t a strong enough message to work places of how serious bullying is -Bullying is a serious threat to someone’s lively hood.
    I know, because I worked in HR and was bullied by HR staff. No one would believe me, no one would investigate… It was said I was the one who had the chip on my shoulder… I went quiet after a while, quiet because I didn’t want to take any part or get close to people who humiliated me every single day.
    The bullying wasn’t done out in the open, it was done very strategically, and it was done after I came back from mat leave.
    It ruins your lively hood, your abilities to complete your job effectively, and whole sense of well being. You feel like you don’t belong.
    We spend so many hours a week at work, it’s like out second home and to be treated so unfair, and it hurts.

    All I know is that I’m glad I stayed strong and ignored these people. I feel I’m a better person then them because I did.
    I believe that some day they will understand what they did, and can only hope they somehow understand it through experience.

    • Hi Ann: It’s sad it read your story about being bulled by your HR team members, with no investigation about your complaints. A policy means nothing if action isn’t taken. Without an investigation, there is no way a decision about whether bullying took place or not, can be made.

      I can “hear” your emotion in your message. What you describe is what happens when someone is being bullied. It impacts your physical and mental well being and your ability to do your job. I am so glad that you stayed strong and ignored your bullies. I hope the message of bullying in the workplace is taken seriously. People deserve a safe place to work.

      Thank you for sharing your story.

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