Today I thought I would highlight a series of stories have come out of Ottawa in the past week. They pertain to bullying and mobbing in the government workplace.
The story that triggered this was that of Zabia Chamberlain, who was a low-level executive being harassed and bullied by her boss. When she tried to do something about it, the senior bureaucracy closed ranks and pushed her out of her job.
They did this using the particularly nasty technique called mobbing. Mobbing involves ganging up on another person in the workplace in order to force that person out. Tactics can include shunning, malicious comments, exclusion from important events, and many other actions. Participants do so out of malice, to avoid being targeted themselves, and out of ignorance. Part of the process involves imagining the target as less than a real person – as somehow deserving of the treatment.
Being the social creatures that we are, it’s a particularly effective and inhumane tactic that is favoured by bullies. Whistleblowers are routinely subjected to it.
Unfortunately, many of the things done aren’t recognized as harassment. As a result, victims are left defenceless.
You may wonder why the average Canadian should care. Well, the simple answer is that it costs money – a lot of money. Studies have consistently shown that productivity falls for everyone (including those not attacked) when there is mobbing in the workplace. This means bigger government and more money spent on contractors as more people are hired to get work done. And that means higher taxes and less effective government for Canadians.
I believe that it is so pervasive in the federal governments is that so many times the bullies are in control of the departments and redress mechanisms. Even unions are afraid to tackle this, given the power of some of the perpetrators.
If the Harper Government (or any government for that matter) wants to increase efficiency and avoid potential scandals, one of the first things they should do is look at the health of the workplace.
Public servant slams response to harassment claim
CBC News, May 9, 2011
Summary: A Gatineau, Que., woman says she was wrongfully dismissed after complaining about continual sexual harassment at her federal government job. Zabia Chamberlain worked as a director inside Human Resources and Skills Development Canada until, she says, chronic abuse from her director general forced her to leave her job. She says the department refused to transfer her to an equivalent job, away from the aggressor.
Public servants sound alarm over workplace ‘mobbing’
CBC News, May 10, 2011
Summary: Some public servants say bullies in the schoolyard have nothing on some executives inside the bureaucracy. Victims of harassment tell CBC News that bullying, intimidation and harassment is a problem inside some public service departments, especially at the higher levels.
Knowing when to talk
CBC News, May 10, 2011
Summary: When Zabia Chamberlain first gave me a call last fall, I was skeptical. Her story sounded too unbelievable. That first conversation lasted about two hours. Over the next six months Zabia and I would have several more lengthy conversations. I’d pour over letters, emails, reports retrieved through access to information. I’d study official government policy. I’d talk to her friends, her daughter, her brother. I’d be privy to very personal reports from her doctors and jaw dropping, sworn affidavits from colleagues.