September 2006 ISSUE


Bullies Beware:
Part III in Workplace Bullying Series


Editor’s Note: This article, the third in our series on bullying, is written by Dr. Louis Francescutti, MD, PhD, the renowned injury prevention expert and advocate, and director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research.

Dr. Francescutti spoke during the APEGGA Annual Conference, and we’ve brought him back, this time for half-day professional development sessions in Edmonton and Calgary, Oct. 6 and 11. Known for his no-nonsense approach and relentless work schedule — he’s also a U of A professor and even finds time to work in the emergency room at the Royal Alexandra Hospital — Dr. Francescutti never fails to deliver.

To find out more about the sessions and Dr. Francescutti or to register, visit www.apegga.org.

PEGG Contributor

Dr.Louis Francescutti


Having had the pleasure of working for an incredible boss surely has to be one of life’s greatest rewards. Having been subjected to a bully for a boss is without a doubt one of life’s most painful experiences and a low point in anyone’s career

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to experience both ends of the spectrum. My lesson learned is simple: The time to stop the bullies of the world is now!

Bullying is rather difficult to define. You know it when you see it or are the subject of the abuse, but at times words simply cannot describe exactly what you are going through.

Some say bullying is when you are physically harmed, intimidated, demeaned, belittled, humiliated, undermined, threatened, offended, degraded or victimized. Clearly, the range bullying can entail is rather wide.

From gossip and rumours to being spoken at with a condescending attitude; to a variety of reprisal strategies, such as the removal of responsibilities for no good reason; to being given trivial tasks, or an unrealistic workload; to threats about job security: bullying is an aggressive misuse and abuse of power.

Bullies tend to be deeply insecure individuals, deficient in social skills and with a lack of empathy. Bullies have low self-esteem. Bullying is all about power: bullies want to control their victims. Bullies find great satisfaction in their relentless attacks. Bullies are very sick individuals, and, sadly, they usually lack the insight to recognize this deficiency in their character.

A Real and Debilitating Pain
Sad as that may be, the impact of bullying on its targets is real and painful, and it needs to be addressed. Bullied individuals experience feelings of anger, a sense of isolation, hurt, anxiety, self-blame, phobias, sleep disturbances, fear, and loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. Some experience symptoms quite similar to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bullying leads to lost productivity, higher absenteeism, increased turnover, severance packages and, quite frankly, a sick work environment, one that directly impacts an organization’s bottom line.
Bullying often leads to the manifestation of depression or other stress related illnesses. Marriages and friendships can be negatively impacted by the daily stress felt by victims of bullying. Some studies have even shown an increase risk of injury in the workplace.

Bullying can take place in a variety of settings and circumstances. Between the classic manager and subordinate, between co-workers, between students, between teachers and students — the list is endless. In this article, we will limit ourselves to the workplace.

Tragic Results
Unchecked, bullying can lead to terrible tragedies. In 1999, an employee of the OC Transpo in Ottawa shot and killed four fellow employees and then himself. The coroner’s inquest determined that the shooter had been the victim of repeated bullying and ridicule by his co-workers.

Recommendation 4 from the Inquest’s report stated: “we recommend that workplace violence be defined not only as physical violence but also as psychological violence, such as bullying, mobbing, teasing, ridicule or any other act or words that could psychologically hurt or isolate a person in the workplace.”

To date only one province has introduced legislation banning bullying at work. On June 1, 2004, Quebec enacted North America’s first anti-workplace bullying law — known as the Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention Act. Fines can be as high as $10,000 for hostile or inappropriate comments, gestures, intimidation, threats, blackmail or coercion.

The Role of Corporate Culture
Companies need to develop an organizational culture against bullying. They need to have clearly written prevention policies. They need to make it crystal clear that bullying is not permitted in the organization. Senior management and supervisors must be visibly active supporters of the no-bullying policies.

If you find yourself a victim of bullying, you are not powerless. Gary and Ruth Namie in their 2003 book The Bully at Work have developed the following bully-busting strategies.

•  Step One: Solicit Support from Family and Friends
•  Step Two: Consult an Outside Physician or Therapist
•  Step Three: Solicit Witness Statements
•  Step Four: Confront the Bully
•  Step Five: File the Internal Complaint
•  Step Six: Prepare the Case Against the Bully
•  Step Seven: Use the “Rule of Two” in Meetings Presenting Your Case
•  Step Eight: Take Your Case Public.

To learn more about bullying in the workplace and what can be done about it, consider attending the upcoming interactive seminars sponsored by APEGGA in October, in both Edmonton and Calgary.

Come and join the worldwide movement that believes work shouldn’t hurt!

By the way, that incredible boss I had the honour of working with was Dr. Tom Noseworthy, currently at the University of Calgary.