globe and mail

How Toxic Workplaces Can Lead to a Bullied Childhood


When bullying is all you know as a child, it tragically becomes your foundation; escaping these patterns becomes your biggest struggle and a lifelong challenge. While some familial bullying is the result of generational programming, a fair share of it arises from what I call “the continuum of bullying” – a parent bringing home reactive stress from a toxic workplace where bullying is the culture.  

A recent article in The Globe and Mail by Dave McGinn discussed emotional abuse in childhood and how a therapist can often help by bringing to light, for the child and the parent, just how insidious and long-lasting a pattern of emotional abuse can be. Even with this type of professional support, divorcing oneself from abusive parent(s) is frequently the best solution.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye – Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss the continuum of bullying: The shareholder bullies the board; the board bullies the CEO, the CEO bullies the executive committee, the executive committee bullies the managers, the manager bullies their employees, and the employees bully their families. This is a toxic dynamic. I assert that creating psychologically safe, healthy, fair and productive workplaces will go a long way in curtailing this horrible chain reaction.

Organizations must become aware that bullying is a present danger and threat to their sustainability. If this does not begin with the CEO, often the chief bullying officer, the required systemic change cannot occur. Sadly, because many employees live in a state of fear as the result of bullying and emotional childhood abuse, they are resistant to speaking up, fearing retribution.  And the cycle continues.

Photo credit: BIGSTOCK

Beware of Lies About Misconduct When Negotiating Severance

Too frequently businesses that lay off an employee allege misconduct to avoid paying a large severance package—and sometimes any severance at all. It’s a tactic that’s very difficult for employees to fight, especially in the United States. Employment attorney Daniel Lublin discusses the tactic in “The dangers of alleging and exaggerating employee misconduct”in the Globe and Mail.

I urge everyone who feels that they are falling into this trap to keep a record of objectives met and all discussions with superiors. Some of these discussions should be initiated by the employee, reviewing performance goals, asking for clarification where there is subjectivity or ambiguity. However, in the case of the 60-year-old employee mentioned in this article, this appears to have been a case of ageism. Special vigilance may be called for if you feel you are being targeted due to age, race, gender, disability or sexual orientation. 


Canada's So-Called Literary Heavyweights Like Margaret Atwood are Dangerously Wrong

Canada's former Ambassador to the United States once observed "They write well – they speak well – but they are wrong." This applies in spades to an open letter by the so-called "literary heavyweights" calling for an investigation into the handling of the Galloway case by the University of British Columbia. Galloway was fired by UBC after being accused of sexual assault, sexual harassment, bullying and other inappropriate behavior. 

This article highlights how the open letter by a group of writers, particularly Margret Atwood, backfired because they were trying to protect one of their own under the notion that the UBC handling of the scandal was not fair and transparent. Quite rightly Atwood was called out on her position to which she responded: "My position is that UBC process was flawed and failed both sides, and the rest of my position that the model of the Salem Witchcraft Trials is not a good one." 

As an expert in harassment and bullying in the workplace, I must point out that Atwood's position on this is dead wrong and dangerous. The process did not "fail both sides." 

UBC handled this scandal properly. To open this up to further inquiry will not only require that the targets of the harassment and bullying be further victimized by additional exposure and being forced to relive what they have experienced. It will also discourage others who are abused, harassed and bullied to come forward.

If Galloway feels his firing was unfair, he has every right to appeal. Given that he has signed a confidentiality agreement, this suggests that he has settled with the university. The open letter by his friends is an attempt to fight the dismissal in the court of public opinion is frighteningly wrong insomuch that if they were successful in doing this, organizations will continue to turn the victims into the villains, which is one of the biggest, if not the biggest obstacle, in encouraging targets of the predators to come forward.

Atwood is considered to be a "feminist icon." Considering the position she has taken on this and her premature defense of Jian Ghomeshi, Canada's notorious sexual predator and workplace bully, suggests that she is the opposite—an anti-feminist icon. It would be interesting to hear her weigh in on Fox's Rodger Ailes, Donald Trump and Billy Bush.

Bravo to Marsha Lederman and the Globe and Mail for calling out Canada's tight-knit literary community on this.

Photo: IBL/Rex Shutterstock

Are Two-Thirds of Your Employees Ready to Walk Out?

While I’m not sure if I’d agree with every idea in this article, but the statistic that two-thirds of Canadian employees are ready to walk out the door of their offices should be startling for employers. While some businesses may think that turnover isn’t a problem, a revolving-door attitude towards employees can be extremely disruptive to a workplace culture. Creating disruptions in workplace culture can, at best, lead to the loss of difficult-to-replace senior employees; at worst, disruptions in the culture can lead to catastrophic organizational scandal. Managers need to show employees that they’re valued, not just on an intellectual level, but through substantive measures like salary, time off, and fair maternity/paternity leave. Find the details here: Two-Thirds of Your Employees are Ready to Move On.


Conflating "Happiness" and "Engagement" at Work


I think this article from The Globe and Mail about why it’s okay not to be “happy” at work totally misses the point. Being “happy” at work means different things depending on the work environment itself – it’s not all about being “content” and demanding spiritual and aspirational fulfillment, as this article seems to suggest. For the vast majority of working people today, being “happy” at work means nothing more than operating in a workplace where they’re not being abused or harassed, not living under the threat of layoffs, not being compelled to work unethically (as we’ve recently seen at Wells Fargo), and where they’re not being assessed by a system that’s prone to racial or gendered biases. Many of today’s unengaged workers would be “happy” for a fair shake and a job that values them as people. Conflating psychologically healthy workplaces with lofty and/or unrealistic notions of office “happiness” is not particularly helpful for many of today’s businesses. You can read the article I'm responding to at The Globe and Mail.

WestJet and Sexual Assault

This situation is twisted, and entirely too common in a variety of industries. After having to come through the experience of sexual assault, this flight attendant was then fired for trying to find out why her attacker was not punished for previous sexual harassment claims. Issues of a sexual nature should be taken as seriously as any other workplace harassment claims, but far too often they result in indifference, ignorance and denial. Read more at The Globe and Mail.