Addressing workplace bullying, harassment must be a business priority: Panel

CEO needs to demonstrate zero tolerance culture

Addressing workplace bullying, harassment must be a business priority: Panel

Organizations that don't seriously address bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination in their workplaces will struggle to attract and retain good employees and suffer from poor productivity, according to a recent panel discussion at the National Club in Toronto.


"Organizations need to tackle this uncomfortable topic, or risk falling behind," said Sheldon Kennedy, abuse survivor and co-founder of the Respect Group. "They need to ask the tough questions to determine if this type of behaviour is happening in their organization. They need to be prepared for what they might find and be committed to taking action to address and end it."


The panel, which included Louise Bradley, president and CEO, Mental Health Commission of Canada, Pamela Jeffery, president, The Pamela Jeffery Group and Soula Courlas, partner, KPMG, noted that ignoring the issue not only affects employee retention but it hurts productivity and profitability. Experiencing bullying and harassment in the workplace can trigger mental health problems and illnesses, which, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, are the leading cause of short‐ and long‐term disability. The economic burden has been estimated at $51‐billion per year, almost $20‐billion of which comes from workplace losses.


While pointing out the risks of not addressing the issue, the panellists noted that many organizations are taking real action to address the issue.


"This isn't just about focusing on the bad individuals," said Kennedy. "Ninety-eight per cent of individuals want to be good, so focus on them and give them the tools to be better."


For those companies who don't know where to start, the panellists said the most important step was instituting a culture of respect and zero tolerance for toxic behaviour in their organizations — a tone that needs to come straight from the CEO.


"This will require a willingness from leadership to face the hard truths about what is happening inside their walls," said Courlas. "Bullying can be subtle. Education is key to helping people recognize it. Leadership has a duty to proactively work towards eradicating this type of behaviour, which will inevitably help unlock the best of their people."