Canadian employment lawyer Howard Levitt, writing for the Vancouver Sun, examines the province of Ontario’s deliberations over amending its occupational safety and health laws to cover workplace bullying. According to Levitt, the problem is the “grey area” between bullying and “an assertive management style.” He continues:
Corporate rainmakers and top executives and salespeople often exhibit demanding and exacting traits that can be perceived as bullying. In a competitive environment, an assertive and “take charge” style is usually rewarded. If a manager exhorts and pushes subordinates to perform, those that can comply might be flush with success, while those people who are laconic by nature may view the exhortations as bullying.
I agree that such grey areas should not be the legal battlegrounds upon which bullying claims are fought, which is why I drafted the Healthy Workplace Bill to require that malice — defined for these purposes “as the desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another” — must be proven to recover damages. This language is contained in all standard versions of the Healthy Workplace Bill filed in the U.S.
However, Levitt’s suggestion that those who are “laconic by nature” are more likely to view an “assertive” and “take charge” management style as bullying is puzzling. Many different personalities, not just those who may be more economical with their words, do not respond well to top-down, command and control management practices. Such practices may not reach the level of bullying, but they well could be both obnoxious and ineffective.
Hat tip: APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program