Toxic workplace cultures and bullying at work

Those who have studied workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse know very well that these behaviors are often stoked by toxic organizational cultures. Today I emphasized that theme in a presentation at a workplace mental health seminar hosted by The Conference Board (TCB), “a global, independent business membership and research association working in the public interest.”

I built my remarks around the concept of relational workplace cultures so brilliantly developed by Drs. Linda Hartling and Elizabeth Sparks in their 2002 paper, “Relational-Cultural Practice: Working in a Nonrelational World” (2002), which I’ve referenced on numerous occasions on this blog.  (Linda Hartling is the current director of the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies network.)

According to Hartling and Sparks, a “relational” culture is one that values “growth-fostering relationships, mutual empathy, mutuality, [and] authenticity,” creating qualities of “zest, empowerment, clarity, sense of worth, and a desire for more connection.”

By contrast, three types of “non-relational cultures” hurt morale and productivity:

  • “traditional hierarchical” cultures that emphasize top-down power;
  • “pseudo-relational” cultures that value superficial “niceness” over constructive change; and,
  • brute “survival” cultures that pit everyone against one another in the quest for status and institutional spoils.

These three types of non-relational workplace cultures, I suggested, are likely to enable bullying and related behaviors at work. “Traditional hierarchical” cultures especially promote direct, top-down bullying. “Pseudo-relational” cultures especially enable indirect, passive-aggressive forms of bullying. “Survival” cultures fuel all types of bullying and mobbing behaviors.

Ideally, the best way to prevent and discourage work abuse is to create a relational culture. That includes nurturing civility, encouraging responsible speech, and applying the Golden Rule. However, when workplace behavior becomes targeted and abusive, firm interventions are necessary.

Of course, I also mentioned the need for stronger legal protections for bullied workers, in the form of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.

Many thanks to TCB program director John Brewer and event coordinator Amanda Edmonds for the kind invitation to participate in this event. I’ll have more to say about this excellent seminar in a future post.


7 responses

  1. “Of course, I also mentioned the need for stronger legal protections for bullied workers, in the form of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.” I’ve noticed what I think is an increase in published stories about workplace bullying but many stop at suggesting support for the HWB – and that, I think, diminishes the value of the articles. BUT NOT THIS ONE!

  2. I personally lobbied with politicians at all government levels to advocate for legislation to address “psychological injuries” in workplace environments by sharing my story ” The Monster in Sandy’s Workolace Environment.” My personal story described in detail over a decade of workplace trauma I endured as a Registered Nurse with Alberta Health Services. It included detailed documentation of the repeated dates and times I reported allegations of harassment and abuse over a decade of my final years if my nursing career. Even after retirement my manager filed allegations of ” unprofessional conduct” two weeks after leaving with my licensing body CARNA (College of Assiciation of Registered Nurses of Alberta). to make sure I could never practice as an RN ever again. Due to severe complex PTSD.was experiencing during the CARNA investigation I didn’t come to the realization I was being misrepresentation of my nurse’s union (United NursesI of Alberta).April 2018 I finally realized my union had been denying me access to the investigative reports to refute my allegations. They were bullying me into signing a consent release agreement to admit to the allegation so acouke courses on line OR if I chose to fight my case in a 5 day Tribunal Hearing I was guaranteed to lose and pay a $10,000 fine as the majority of the nurses on the panel were managers. I demanded to have the investigative reports sent to me which I received March 2018. When reviewing them they were all redacted. Because I knew the charting ot took me close to three days to find the files matching to each allegation. This proved to me that the union had it even liked st the files.June 2018 I self represent my self with my licensing body CARNA refuting each and every allegation as false. Two weeks later I received a letter from CARNA that my case was DISMISSED!!.After three years of research I published an article in the Alberta RN Magazine February 2018 ” Examining the Effects of Workolace Bullying Harassment and Psychological I juries on Alberta’s Health Care System: A CALL FOR LEGISLATION.”October 2016 Alberta’s Labour Minister Christina received my letter to her which included my personal story and request for legislation. I specifically asked to have the Occupatoonal Health and Safety Act reviewed and changed to address “psycholigical injuries” in workplace environments.Two weeks later I received a response letter from Christina Grey stating she took my concerns seriously. July 2017 Christina Grey also received the first draft of my published article. November 28, 2017 Christina Grey introduced Government Bill 30: An Act to Protect the Health and Well-being of Working Albertans. Within two two weeks Bill 30 reached Royal Assent December 15,2017. BILL30 was rolled out and enacted throughout 2018. June 1,2018 The Occupational Health and Safety Act was replaced to include zero tolerance for “psychological injuries” in any workplace environment within Alberta.May 2018 I filed my final complaint of ” workplace bullying trauma” with the new OH&S complaint line sharing my personal story and letters to politicians advocating for the new legislation.I was requesting compensation. Four months later in an email an OH&S officer informed me she could not investigate my complaint as the OH&S Act was enacted June 1,2018 and I was no longer employed with AHS ir member of the United Nurses of Alberta the OHS. She congratulated me in all my efforts to make it possible for future complaints to be addressed.The OH&S officer actually called me two weeks later apologizing for not being able to investigate. She read my story and was deeply empathetic with what I endured and so grateful for my tenacity to get legislation passed. My complaint set a template for the many complaints similar to mine now being filed with regards to Alberta Health Services.

  3. Its same every where when you come across with bureaucracy, deep nexus within individual at work place rather than a work atmosphere towards growth.

  4. I have noticed that the workplace environment has dramatically changed over the years to which honest, clear speaking, common sensed people are often “under the gun” so to speak because of all the rules and regulations being developed, sometimes with confusing interpretations and constantly shifting thoughts. I go into this more on my site, but I’m learning all the time through others. Thank you.

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