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What went Wong: Thwart the bullies


May 20, 2021
By James Wong

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We’ve all had a rough year. Along with declining mental health due to the pandemic, one other possible contributor to the increasing rate of serious self-harm is bullying. The causes for such behaviour can include racism, self-privilege, adversity to change, status and numerous other reasons not always understood by the bully.

If you’ve ever been a junior level worker, you may remember being teased by established workers. If you didn’t experience some sort of one-upmanship, you are probably very much in the minority. It’s not unheard of for guys to show their upper hand by making comments or comparing stories about how well they’ve done in comparison. Good fun is acceptable; however, when it turns into bullying it can have some very negative effects for the targeted worker. Intimidation also affects productivity and safety on the jobsite and workplace.

It’s not always apparent to the offender how their comments or actions are affecting a co-worker. Conversely, targeted workers may not be aware of the effects. The most common symptoms are feeling anxious about going to work, decreasing social group involvement, missing work and depression. We’ve all had days where going to work might seem a bit of a drudgery. However, when a feeling of anxiety is the primary reaction, there might very well be a problem.

Bullying has a negative impact on mental wellness, causing symptoms in many forms from depression to the compounding consequences of declining well being. There is a very real stigma attached to an individual’s inability to speak up for themselves displayed by workers thinking less of someone because of their perceived weakness or thinking a worker is “other than” because they can’t take a joke. This has been known to lead to shaming, shunning, blaming, and even physical harm.

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Most people spend the bulk of their waking hours at work. Being exposed to ridicule on a daily basis takes a serious toll, affecting the safety of everyone on the team. It can be difficult to recognize the difference between workplace teasing and bullying. It often causes an uneasy feeling and hesitancy to speak up.

The only real way to tackle bullying in the workplace is to incorporate a mental health component to safety training that uses best practices to support early intervention. Preventing harm to workers’ psychological health by addressing negligent, reckless, or intentional ways to harm, and promoting psychological well-being, provides the tools to tackle bullying.

Mental well being is an essential part of our overall health, affecting our ability to make sound decisions on the job. This directly impacts individual safety and the safety of others. Mental well being is the disposition in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, are able to make a positive contribution to their workplace and branch out further. A fully healthy individual has the potential to emit goodwill in their community.

Incorporating mental health awareness in safety training is beneficial to a company’s bottom line. The cost of overlooking persistent bullying practices not only affects the individual, it also increases the potential for adverse workplace incidents. Absenteeism, turnover, strain on employee assistance programs, short-term and long-term disability and drug plan costs are factors that are serious incentives for encouraging a proactive approach from management toward a healthy workplace. Teaching workers how to recognize bullying and what to do about it empowers employees to act against attempted intimidation.

A positive approach to our co-workers generates camaraderie, which in turn has numerous positive health ramifications. Knowing your co-workers have your back, speaking up when you observe bullying, practicing positive reinforcement and putting safety as the priority for all workers, sets a tone and work culture that is highly productive, generates improved job satisfaction, and importantly, increases personal and workplace safety. If you are the target of bullying speak up, and if you see something, say something. Be safe. Be well.  


James Wong is an OHS chief for the construction industry.


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