Bullying. By: Sheldon Vogt 

It began when he was ten years old.  He loved school but dreaded going; recess and after school meant release from the safety of the classroom and the watchful eye of his teacher to the unprotected battlefield that was the outskirts of the school playground. 

He would hide his bicycle at different locations each day to avoid detection and wouldn’t dare lock it up as the time it took to unlock it meant the difference between capture and escape.  He planned his daily getaway down to the finest detail, often leaving class early to hide in bathroom stalls or the classroom of his younger sibling until it was time to walk her home.  The added time also gave him a head-start packing up his things before making the wild dash to his strategically placed bicycle.  

He was never sure what was worse, the chase or being caught.  Outrunning them meant another night of planning tomorrow’s getaway.  Being caught meant fist fighting and it always played out the same way; encircled by cheering school kids waiting for one of them to step forward and initiate the unavoidable melee.  It would end with kids scattering in all directions, he included, as the principal of the school or an adult from a nearby house would come outside to break it up.  Although marred with physical violence and abuse, fighting meant freedom from the chase for at least a time. 

As the school year went b the anxiety and fear were drowning.  His getaway plans became anticipated and the speed advantage of the bicycle rendered useless. Capture became more frequent.  Feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, anger and depression surfaced along with the destruction of self-esteem and confidence. He thought about those boys every night before bed and every morning he woke up.  He couldn’t sleep.  

This may be an extreme example of schoolyard bullying but the story is true.  It’s my own and it’s part of a traditional conceptualization of bullying in an era past and may not be far from the imagination of some when confronted with the question, “what is bullying?”.   When faced with the same question I find myself reminiscing famous comedic Hollywood bullies such as Biff from the Back to the Future series or Regina and her gang from the bully-ridden film Mean Girls.  These Hollywood examples reflect a common and narrow perspective of bullying, restricted to that of a school setting.   Bullying has no environmental limitations.  It spreads into work environments and personal relationships and has further extended itself into the far reaches of lives in homes everywhere in a cyber form.  In any fashion, bullying is significant and insidious, having dramatic and lingering widespread effects.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) defines bullying as, “the activity of repeated, aggressive or disrespectful behaviour intended to hurt another person physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual or individuals behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.”  Bullying is a type of abuse in the form of psychological violence and harassment.  It can include discrimination and have devastating short or long-term biological, psychological, emotional and spiritual effects.

Bullying behavior is identified by 3 features:

  1. It is DELIBERATE
  2. It is DISRESPECTFUL
  3. It is REPEATED

A Local Member shares:

“I was routinely held solely accountable for group projects, unfairly criticized for combined efforts and was withheld necessary information for success.  I was consistently given objectives that were immeasurable and unachievable.   I was even accidentally sent text messages talking about me to other employees. There was complete disconnect between what was communicated behind closed doors and what was shared when the doors were opened, not only about me, but about peers and individuals in positions of greater authority.  Messaging was regularly harsh, judgmental and discriminatory in closed circles yet bubbly, cheerful and supportive in the presence of others.  I was disgraced, humiliated and lost all credibility with my peers who began to openly verbalize their opinion of me as incompetent and stupid.   These were once people who respected and valued me as a team member.”

AHS reports that 1 in 6 people are bullied in their lifetime and that less than 15% of recipients ask for help.   80% of people bullied will find a new job and the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) reports 40% of Canadians are bullied on a weekly basis.  UNA reports bullied employees are most likely to leave their job in the first year and say it takes approximately 23.4 months before they decide whether or not to report the incident and an average of 10 years to recover from its widespread effects.

The Local Member continues:

“I began having abdominal pain and trouble sleeping at night. I thought about work 24/7 and did everything I could think of to improve my standing.  In my life I could never before remember being deemed unsuccessful at anything and now felt as though I could do nothing right.  I felt unheard, unappreciated and unwanted.  My confidence was lower at that point in my life than ever before.  I didn’t want to go to work and began closing my office door when I was there.  I wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear.  I left work in tears every day.  It was the worst working year of my life and, to this day, I am still learning to cope with the lingering effects of that experience.”

UNA and AHS are committed to working together in support of a just culture of safety and respect.  A result of this partnership has been the development of MySafetyNet (MSN), a reporting tool which can be used to document ANYTHING that potentially negatively impacts your Health and Safety.   For incidences of harassment or abuse, including bullying, the suggested method of reporting is by submitting a Formal Complaint through the Human Resources Department using Document 1115, Workplace Violence: Prevention and Response (hyperlinked below).  It is strongly recommended that you contact the UNA Local or Provincial Office prior to filing a formal complaint and speak with a Labour Relations Officer (LRO) to ensure you are presented with all information required to make an informed decision.   If you elect to file your bullying concern through the MSN system, option #6 (Co-Worker Related Incident of Aggression, Harassment or Violence) submits the report to the Human Resources department and bypasses your manager completely. If your manager is not the person you are making the report against, it is important to follow up with them directly as well as completing the report on MSN. (Document 1115, Workplace Violence: Prevention and Response: https://extranet.ahsnet.ca/teams/policydocuments/1/clp-ahs-pol-workplace-violence-prevention-response.pdf)

To file a Co-Worker Incidents of Aggression, Harassment or Violence report on MSN, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the home page of Insite and login to the Report Worker Incidents MySafetyNet employee login.  The username and password is the same as your AHS email and E-People accounts.  https://mysafetynet.albertahealthservices.ca/prd/portalregistration/Login.rails
  2. Select Incidents on the navigation bar.
  3. Select #6, “Co-Worker Incidents of Aggression, Harassment or Violence” report.
  4. Enter your name, date of incident occurrence, phone number and geographical region.
  5. Click “Submit” at the top of the page.

Following submission of your report, you will receive an email from HR confirming they have received your report and an HR representative will contact you directly to guide you through next steps.  There is no deadline submitting a report through MSN but it is suggested to do so as soon as possible after the incident.  Statistical data from MSN can be requested and brought forward by the UNA Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Committee for review and discussion.  These discussions can aid in promoting substantial change aimed at improving the health and safety of UNA members across the province.  (MSN FAQ: https://myahs.ca/insite/Files/hr-whs-msn-staff-faqs.pdf).

UNA offers a workshop titled “Dealing with Abuse” and encourages all members to attend.  It is highly informative, well instructed and an excellent resource for all UNA members to learn more about abuse, workplace bullying, the collective agreement, legislation and reporting.  Please call the local office to register. Available dates can be found on the UNA events calendar. (UNA Event Calendar: https://www.una.ab.ca/events)

Bullying grows in silence and withers in the light of exposure.  If you are experiencing bullying you are not alone.  You are important and valued.  Please take the time to talk to someone.  The Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) is a valuable resource and available for support 24 hours a day at 1-844-880-9137.  (EFAP Bullying in the Workplace: https://www.workhealthlife.com/Article/Read/Bullyingintheworkplace). Please follow the link below to all bullying information provided by AHS on Insite and call the UNA Local 115 office at 403-237-2377 with any questions or concerns you may have. (Bullying: https://myahs.ca/insite/8737.asp).

Get help.  Take a stand. Talk to us. Together we can.