Organization’s Guide

This section is intended to help organizations assess where they currently stand in terms of workplace climate. Its goal is to help you to reduce workplace bullying and harassment, and to create and sustain respectful workplace climate. While this guide can stand as a template, you will need to customize the approach for your particular circumstances.

Incivility in the Workplace

Combating Toxicity and Improving Workplace Climate

Complaints about incivility, bullying, and other toxic behaviors in the workplace are often met with advice to “just ignore it,” or “don’t let the haters get to you.” However, research shows that incivility in the workplace has real consequences on the performance, well-being, and health of all – even those who are not targets or who claim to be able to ignore it. In this presentation, we will discuss how incivility affects our attention, information processing, decision-making, creativity and other relevant aspects of being productive, in addition to effects on relationships, job satisfaction, and individual mental and physical health. Common objections to taking an active approach to addressing incivility will be discussed (e.g., freedom of speech, intellectual freedom) and participants will share strategies for creating a more civil workplace climate.

Setting The Vision

Define the kind of workplace climate that you want to have (and what you don’t want to have). Many organizations have a vision statement, mission statement, and perhaps a set of values and/or guiding principles. But how well are these translated into daily practice? Does the organization walk its talk? Does it send mixed messages about what it values and what it actually rewards?

Compassionate organization

“…In general, the compassionate organization…

  • Sees a clear link between the emotional health of employees and the organization’ bottom line
  • Recognizes and rewards managers who are good toxin handlers
  • Hires for attitude as well as technical skill
  • Maintains a fair-minded workplace, recognizing the direct connection between consistent values such as loyalty, responsibility, and initiative, and the health of the organization overall
  • Has intervention strategies in place for times of distress or change (such as layoffs, personal trauma among staff members, or natural disasters) and rehabilitation strategies to ensure long-term recovery of hope and vitality in the workplace
  • Builds a company culture that values compassion and community as beneficial to productivity and to people.” (pp. 27-28)

SOURCE: Frost, P. J. (2003). Toxic emotions at work: How compassionate managers handle pain and conflict. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Until his death in 2004, Peter J. Frost was the Edgar F.Kaiser Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Faculty of Commerce at the University of British Columbia

Just how mistake-friendly and conflict-friendly is your organization?

Trust is a huge factor in shaping workplace productivity, and openness impacts an organization’s capacity to reflect, learn, self-correct, improve, and innovate.

A CLIMATE OF SAFETY FOR RISK TAKING Some organizations treat mistakes as learning opportunities. In these workplaces, it’s okay to admit that things didn’t turn out quite the way that you expected, and to discuss these situations with others to see what learning can be drawn from the experience. Similarly, conflict is treated as a natural process, and one that sometimes signals “change looking for a chance to happen”. Conflict is approached calmly and reasonably, with the expectation of a positive outcome.

A DUCK-AND-COVER CLIMATE In other organizations, mistakes are not admissible, and will be covered up as quickly as possible. Any potential for learning is lost, and so is any opportunity for corrective action. In such settings, conflict is likely to be viewed as bad news, rather than being approached as an opportunity for dialogue and problem solving. The possibility for collective learning and growth goes unexplored, and the opportunity for conflict transformation is lost. Conflict here is anxiety-laden.

NOTE: Most workplaces will fall somewhere on a continuum between these two types. SOURCE: Marilyn Noble, People Link

Nine rules for a dysfunctional organization

Here is a tongue-and-cheek list of rules that you DON’T want your workplace to adopt!

  1. Do not discuss the undiscussable;
  2. Feelings are undiscussable in the workplace;
  3. Never say exactly what you mean to the person who most needs to hear it;
  4. One mistake and you’re out;
  5. We’ll take credit for your good ideas and punish you for your failures;
  6. Everything you are belongs to the company;
  7. Do as we say and don’t ask questions;
  8. You’re not here to enjoy yourself; you’re here to work;
  9. Don’t try to change anything.

SOURCE: Wright, L. and Smye, M. (1996). Corporate abuse: How “lean and mean” robs people and profits. Toronto: Key Porter Books, pp. 76-78.

How well do we walk our talk?

What does the organization say that it values? What messages do we convey through our:

  • Vision statement?
  • Mission statement?
  • Values?
  • Guiding principles?
  • Key result areas?
  • Outcomes and indicators?

How clear and consistent are our messages?

What implicit messages do employees receive from what we encourage, acknowledge, measure, reward, and invest resources to achieve?

  • Do our employees have clear job descriptions?
  • Do we practice performance management constructively?
  • Do we have a clear code of conduct with clear consequences?
  • Do we consistently model the kinds of behavior that we hope to see?
  • Do we acknowledge and reinforce exemplary behavior?
  • Do we have systems in place to welcome new employees and to ease their transition? (Examples: Orientation, employee’s handbook, mentoring program or buddy system)

How effectively do we address conflict, bullying, and harassment?

  • Do we treat conflict as a learning opportunity and help people to transform conflict?
  • Do we teach people to recognize inappropriate behavior (in themselves and in others) in its early stages?
  • Do we raise awareness of bullying and harassment?
  • Do we develop employees’, supervisors’, and managers’ skills in addressing bullying and harassment?
  • Do our employees know where and how to report bullying and harassment, and do they feel safe in doing so?
  • Do we have an appropriate range of systems in place to address bullying and harassment? (coaching, counseling, facilitation, mediation, informal or formal investigation, alternative dispute resolution, progressive discipline, postvention)?

Gathering and Analyzing Information

Make workplace behavior discussable, and use language that reflects the organization’s culture

Define the kinds of behaviours that you want to encourage

Determine what kinds of behaviours you consider to be cause for concern

Forms of workplace bullying include:

  • ignoring
  • verbal incivility
  • blatant rudeness name calling, putdowns
  • hazing
  • discounting input or ideas
  • withholding vital information
  • shunning and exclusion
  • gossip & rumours
  • stealing credit
  • undermining
  • discrediting
  • impossible deadlines
  • impossible workload
  • setting up to fail
  • discrimination
  • chilly climate
  • public humiliation
  • intimidation
  • personal harassment
  • psychological harassment
  • sexual harassment
  • abuse of authority
  • imposing unsafe working conditions
  • toxic workplace
  • threats
  • cyberbullying
  • threats with weapons
  • violence & assault
  • murder
  • mass violence
  • acts of terrorism

Develop safe, confidential ways for people throughout the organization to report incidents of workplace bullying and harassment

These methods might include: an anonymous report form (paper or online),

  • an anonymous survey (paper or online) conducted at regular intervals,
  • a hot line or 1-800 number,
  • designated contact people throughout the organization,
  • a workplace ombudsperson,
  • focus groups or interviews conducted by an external facilitator

Assess workplace culture/climate

Many organizations have statements of vision, mission, values, guiding principles. But how well are these understood and put into daily practiced? (Do we walk our talk?)

Some of the more subtle elements include:

  • the tone of the workplace (formal or informal, competitive or collaborative, welcoming or unfriendly, supportive or hostile)
  • its unwritten rules (“how we really do things here”)
  • levels of trust and respect
  • how people treat one another
  • how valued and accepted people feel
  • how the organization handles mistakes, conflict, and negative workplace events
  • how engaged employees feel in their work and in the organization
  • how actively employee feedback, suggestions, and ideas are encouraged
  • employee job satisfaction
  • investment in people’s learning and development
  • loyalty, commitment, and sustainability planning

Pinpoint the types of workplace incidents that are occurring

Bullying and harassing behaviours include such things as:

  • berating someone in front of others
  • making fun of someone’s accent
  • blocking someone’s career advancement
  • withholding information & resources
  • deliberately encouraging inappropriate attire
  • sexist, racist, & homophobic remarks or graphics
  • unpredictable, explosive outbursts
  • inflammatory remarks in e-mail or blogs
  • tampering with someone’s work station
  • imposing unsafe working conditions
  • setting impossible deadlines & expectations
  • hiding someone’s personal belongings
  • refusing to provide a job description or performance evaluation criteria
  • taking credit for someone else’s ideas
  • rudeness & abusive language
  • scapegoating, unfairly blaming
  • micromanaging & constant fault-finding
  • withholding formative feedback
  • abusing personal information
  • discrediting someone’s skills & qualifications
  • hounding staff outside of office hours
  • spreading rumours, gossip & innuendo
  • threats & intimidation
  • blatant favouritism
  • unnecessarily harsh & hurtful feedback
  • ridiculing or destroying someone’s work
  • undermining professional or personal reputation
  • taking away the satisfying parts of a job without just cause
  • making someone feel useless by giving them only meaningless/trivial tasks to do
  • scapegoating & constant fault-finding
  • blocking access to training, leave, or promotion
  • hounding staff outside of office hours
  • unwelcome comments on personal appearance

Track patterns and trends over time

One of the current problems is that many workplaces lack a comprehensive overview of harassment and bullying across the organization. Managers may be aware of incidents occurring within their particular area of responsibility, but a bird’s eye view of the entire workplace over time is often lacking.

To help address this, an interactive workplace bullying grid is provided which you can customize to your workplace. You can select from the menu the types of bullying that you need to monitor, and identify the areas of your workplace in which you wish to chart these behaviours. You can then enter comparative data on this grid representing whatever time interval you wish (monthly, quarterly, annually) to monitor patterns and trends over time. Reviewing the grid might help you choose to focus your energy and time on areas of particular need.

Examine presenting problems to look for contributing factors and root causes

Look at when these incidents take place (time of day, time of week, time of month, time of year, which years). Consider what else has been going on within the organization, the community, and the economy at those times.

Presenting problems

The “presenting problems” are the immediate situations that attract attention and generate concern: for instance, high rates of absenteeism, bickering among employees, harassment complaints. Responses that focus at this level will be band-aid solutions.

Contributing factors

These are elements that aggravate the situation: for instance, deadline pressures, high-stress decision making, competition to maintain market share, fear of job cuts. This level of problem solving begins to address the factors that motivate behaviour.

Root causes

These are larger issues that exist at a deeper level: for instance, unreliable supply sources that create production bottlenecks, a workplace culture that encourages and rewards bullying behaviour, concerns about organizational sustainability. Problem solving at this level requires systemic review and change.

Examine impact on employee well-being



  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • back pain
  • high blood pressure
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pains
  • panic attacks
  • nightmares
  • disrupted sleep/sleeping too much
  • substance abuse
  • loss of appetite
  • binge eating
  • severe weight loss/gain


  • erosion of self-confidence
  • anxiety
  • loss of energy
  • burnout
    • loss of enjoyment in work
    • inability to relax
    • loss of enjoyment in leisure activities
    • exhaustion
    • short temper, irritability
    • volatility, explosive anger
    • feeling overwhelmed
    • cynicism, negativity
    • suspiciousness
    • sense of helplessness/hopelessness
  • post traumatic stress disorder
    • fear
    • flashbacks
    • reliving painful events
    • recurrent nightmares
    • always on edge, anxious, watchful
    • loss of hope for the future
    • emotional numbing
    • withdrawal
    • avoidance of intimacy
    • feelings of guilt
    • insomnia
    • diminished concentration
    • aggression
  • depression, despair


  • strained friendships
  • marital stress
  • compromised parenting
  • social withdrawal and isolation
  • thoughts of harming self or others


  • unpaid leave
  • medical expenses
  • legal fees
  • uncertainty of future employment
  • costs of relocation

Estimate impact on the organization

Cowie, H., Naylor, P. & Rivers, I. (2002). Measuring workplace bullying. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 7(1), 33-51.

Notelaers, G., Einarsen, S. & De Witte, H. (2006). Measuring exposure to bullying at work: The validity and advantages of the latent class cluster approach. Work & Stress, 20(4), 289-302.

Turmanis, S.A. & Brown, R.I. (2006). The stalking and harassment behaviour scale: measuring the incidence, nature, and severity of stalking and relational harassment and their psychological effects. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 79(2), 183-198.

Resources: Deciding to Act

Create the business case for a respectful workplace initiative

Examine the current costs to the organization

  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism
  • Lost productivity
  • Lost creativity
  • Lost business opportunities
  • Sick leave
  • Stress leave
  • Long term disability leave
  • Staff turnover
  • Recruitment and retraining costs
  • Legal costs and litigation


When people are feeling bullied and harassed, it can be very difficult to concentrate on the job at hand. “Presenteeism” refers to workers who are present in body but whose minds are elsewhere. This state of mind can contribute to accidents and errors.

What will it cost to implement a respectful workplace initiative?

That depends on the current climate in your organization, and the extent of any changes that may be needed.

How long will it take?

Realistically, a respectful workplace initiative needs to be approached as a three- to five-year project. Of course, the longer the period over which the problems have developed, the longer they are likely to take to resolve.

Who should oversee the process?

  • Identify people within the organization who can lead this initiative.
  • Who are the most likely change agents?
  • It will require the support of a small team of resource people, and the participation of an advisory committee or a steering committee.

Advisory committee

An advisory body is usually made up of people outside the organization who provide advice on matters of policy, management, program development, or other specifics. They may perceive impacts of an organization’s actions in relation to their own domain and may inform decision making from their perspective. An advisory committee is often an ongoing group.

Steering committee

A steering committee is usually made up of people within an organizational who help to invite organizational investment in an issue. Their involvement is most significant at the beginning with new initiatives or projects and diminishes as the project moves through its initial implementation cycle. When the project is over, the group is disbanded.

  • Confirm senior management’s commitment to making this priority For an organization to take this seriously, commitment needs to begin at the top. Creating and sustaining a respectful workplace needs to be a management priority, with appropriate staff, time, and resources allocated to ensure its success.
  • Set clear goals and realistic expectations

Set clear goals and realistic expectations

Set clear goals to guide the process. What would the ideal outcome be? Changing the workplace culture/workplace climate takes time.

Realistic expectations

Set realistic expectations, and don’t expect to see overnight results. As a general rule, the longer it has taken for the current situation to develop, the longer it will take to change. Be realistic about the time that it will take to achieve measurable results

How will we know if we’ve been successful?

Each measure needs to be made quantifiable.

  • Increased employee job satisfaction and commitment
  • Increased employee retention
  • Greater employee engagement
  • Reduced stress
  • Reduced conflict
  • Reduced rates of burnout
  • Improvements in work/life balance
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased innovation

Commit the necessary resources

  • Recognize the magnitude of the project
  • Ensure that the best people possible are recruited to work on it
  • Determine the kinds of expertise that you’ll need
  • How often will you need this expertise?
  • Do you have these skills in-house?
  • To avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest, is it important to bring them in from outside?

Determine what kinds of expertise you’ll need:

  • Develop incident report form
  • Design survey
  • Collect and analyze data
  • Develop recommendations based on data
  • Staff a hot line or 1-800 number
  • Recruit, screen, train, and support contact people
  • Very good interpersonal skills and nonjudgmental listening skills
  • Compile resources for contact people to go to
  • Facilitation and training skills
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Investigative skills
  • Mediation skills
  • Counseling
  • Coaching
  • Mediation skills
  • Legal counsel

How often will you need this expertise?

Do you have these skills in-house?

To avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest, is it important to bring them in from outside?

Launching a Respectful Workplace Initiative

Create safe, confidential reporting channels

Get broadly based employee buy-in

Encourage involvement at all levels of the organization. Identify where there are likely to be pockets of resistance. Who are the reluctant, hard-to-reach, or outsider groups, and how will you invite them in? How will you create a climate of safety?

  • Be clear about what you’re asking participants to do
  • Let them know how you plan to use their input.
  • Set some safety boundaries around confidentiality.
  • Be clear about how you will report back to them.
  • Set honest and realistic expectations.

Find out how they see the situation

  • Never assume that you know either the problem or its solution.
  • Explore the positive first.
  • Use active listening skills.

What do they seem the most eager to discuss? What themes or ideas keep surfacing? What isn’t being said? What topics are being avoided? What points of view are being held back? Create safe, confidential reporting channels

Create safe, confidential reporting channels

Identify barriers to reporting Consult broadly on how to make reporting safe Communicate clearly any limitations placed on confidentiality

Create a workplace awareness campaign

This needs to be tailored to the specific workplace. Its development would need to take into account the language (jargon) of the organization, the educational level of the target audience, and the current level of sensitivity to this issue. Materials need to be attention-grabbing, and presented in a variety of ways (which might include: electronic bulletins, live and online information sessions, posters, questionnaires, messages from the CEO or other workplace champion of the campaign, speaker series, information sheets, FAQ sheets).

If you can identify groups or key individuals who are already on board, that gives you a base from which to build. It’s also important to identify likely pockets of resistance.

Develop and deliver appropriate training

Different levels of training will be needed for the general work force, supervisors and middle managers, human resources personnel, union reps, respectful workplace contact people and informal helpers, counseling and coaching staff, and senior management. Each workplace will need to define the competencies that each of these levels will need to have.

• Establish and integrate a sound diagnostic flow chart

• Ensure an appropriate range of intervention strategies

Provide appropriate support services


Dealing with workplace harassment is emotionally exhausting, and rethinking one’s own behaviour can be very painful. Counselling needs to be available to targets, harassers, bystanders, supervisors and managers, and those in informal and formal helping roles. Sometimes it can be provided in-house, and sometimes referral to an outside EAP provider is more appropriate.


Both individuals and groups may need ongoing supportive coaching to help them replace unhelpful behaviours with more appropriate responses. To ensure that change takes root and that people don’t backslide into old habits, it’s valuable to have a trained person on hand who can rehearse and role-play with them, debrief about their attempts at implementing the new behaviours, and provide encouragement, fine-tuning, and troubleshooting throughout the change process.

Legal information

A frequent problem is that a highly placed bully will have greater access to legal resources than a target does. It is important that someone within the organization, who is both well informed and neutral, be available to help all parties to understand their options and support them in making informed choices about how to proceed. See: New Brunswick Courts Website, Legal glossary of terms

Union representation

The role of the union is to ensure that union members are made aware of their rights, understand the options available to them, and are provided with information and support in preparing their case. See RESOURCES Section, CUPE Equality Branch, Stop harassment: A guide for CUPE locals

Encourage and support early identification and early intervention

Intervention Strategies

There is a continuum of intervention strategies. Beginning with the most informal and moving up the line in terms of formality:

One-on-one conversation

The target discusses the matter with the other party. Preparation for this conversation might include: jotting down key points, preparing an outline or script, rehearsing it in front of the mirror, role-playing it with a third party.

Conversation chaired by a third-party

In cases where the target feels too intimidated to have this conversation one-on-one with the aggressor, it may be appropriate to have a neutral third party be present to chair the meeting. This chairing role is used to safeguard air time for each of the parties, to paraphrase where needed, and to manage the stress of the situation in a way that enables them to engage in honest dialogue.

Third party intervention

At this level, the target chooses not to be present, and to let the third party speak on their behalf. In this process, the third party becomes a go-between.


This approach acknowledges that bystanders are also impacted by the conflict, and opens up the conversation to include them. The facilitator may use a variety of techniques (inviting certain kinds of individual reflection, sharing in pairs, and small group discussion, for instance) to bring the issues to the surface. There may be training components. Participants may be invited to analyze and problem solve short scenarios based on the issues that have arisen in the workplace. The group may be invited to brainstorm and build consensus around ground rules for their future interactions.


The first phase of this is a diagnostic process, entailing interviews with each of the parties to determine whether mediation is a viable strategy. Next, the process is explained to all of the parties, and they are asked to confirm their willingness to enter into mediation in good faith. Only then is mediation carried out. Mediation is not possible where a significant power differential exists or when violence has been involved.

Formal complaint and formal investigation

Formal investigation is usually requested on one of the following grounds:

  • Personal harassment
  • Sexual harassment
  • Abuse of authority
  • Poisoned work environment
  • Discrimination
  • Some jurisdictions also recognize psychological harassment

Tackle longstanding workplace bullying issues

See FAQ’s: What about difficult-to-resolve situations?

  • Two or more opposing versions of the story, without any witnesses
  • Allegation of bullying in the upper ranks of the organization
  • Allegation of bullying by a board of directors
  • Allegation of bullying by an elected official
  • Allegation of bullying by an externally contracted employee
  • Addressing bullying by clients or members of the public

Clear the air and rebuild healthy workplace relationships

It is a common problem that the aftermath of a workplace bullying or harassment situation goes unaddressed.

Until the situation is appropriately debriefed, it will be remain “the invisible elephant in the room”, and it will be difficult for the parties involved to let go of what has happened and to find a way forward. The people who have been affected by the situation need a structured and carefully facilitated opportunity to voice their concerns and have them acknowledged. The group as a whole needs to explore how to move forward.

See Corporate Circles (link here)

Evaluating the Results

Monitor progress and evaluate outcomes

When organizations become more aware of workplace bullying and harassment, it is to be expected that there will be an initial increase in the number of complaints brought forward. It will be important to capture both anecdotal and statistical information, and to monitor both expected and unanticipated outcomes.

Back To Top