Mechanisms of Workplace psychological violence, Part 1
By Wendy Gaucher-Bigcharles
I have learned much about workplace abuse in the last years, not because I necessarily wanted to but because I had too, as I shockingly found myself being subjected to it. Now sharing my learning and insights about the mechanisms of this violence continues to be important to me, to help lift the veiled silence remaining around this workplace issue. One key insight that became clear to me: Workplace psychological violence campaigns are with intent to cause harm to get a desired outcome.
The offender’s intent is to orchestrate overt and passive attacks on the target’s identity and ability to function in the workplace. Repeated over prolonged periods it results in the dismantling of the individual’s identity and functional ability to do the job required of them.
No matter who you are in your job or your level of abilities and competence – as a barista, librarian, doctor, firefighter, restaurant server, accountant, corporate manager or construction worker – every person must be able to access their basic identity and skills as the person they are individually and in relation to the job and profession.
Campaigns of psychological (often it is non-physical) bullying, harassment and discrimination are with purpose to repeatedly impede and silence the target’s abilities and functioning in the workplace and then their identity becomes dismantled. It can also start by directly attacking the individual’s identity and as this continues it then impedes and disassembles the individual’s skills and ability to function in their job. Often both are happening together. Withstanding this over periods of time causes harm, both physical and psychological – too often serious workplace injury and illness and in some cases it can be fatal.
The specific desired outcomes in each case may vary in some details, however the overall desired outcome in almost all workplace psychological violence campaigns is to silence and harm the targeted worker enough in attempts to pressure and force the worker to do something and/or ultimately “go away” in someway. There are thousands of real scenarios of how this violence has played-out over the years.
Unfortunately this silencing can also be unleashed on co-workers who witness the violence to prevent them from even considering supporting the victim or once they have stood-up for the victim to intimidate them back into silence.
Recently I spoke about this at the Do Not Be a Bystander Candlelight Vigil – a province wide campaign movement taking aim at raising awareness of the important role bystanders to violence and bullying have. Following is part of my speech:
“The World Health Organization identifies ‘psychological attack’ as one of four modes in which violence can be inflicted. ‘The workplace…’ is named as a location category where all forms of violence can take place. This happens in all countries, in Canada, and in Alberta – a lot. I know because for almost 4 years now I have lived it; being a target of a psychological violence campaign at work. I was targeted because of my culture, skin color and gender, my husband and I were targeted because of our culture, and skin color and I was subjected to ongoing discriminatory and harassing conduct throughout.
Do Not Be a Bystander – witnesses, often co-workers the bystanders, to these violent campaigns at work can have a role in intervening and stopping the violence before it gets worst, goes on for years and harms many other people.
However, the bystanders can face violence themselves for doing so, often they themselves become targeted in retaliation to inhibit them from intervening.
In my experience, co-workers, some who directly stood by me were targeted and ostracized for periods of time, many who wanted to verify and stand by me where systematically intimidated and silenced, some who could openly see parts of the injustices put on me began expressing their dismay to me and the serious distress it caused them, for some it even contributed to them being on stress leave, some co-workers simply stopped talking to me and avoided me altogether, some co-workers were pressured and coerced to do things to me they were uncomfortable doing knowing it was inherently inappropriate and wrong.
This is also psychological violence; the ones doing it intend harm to the witnesses to get a desired outcome. When this happens, the co-workers, they become instruments of the violence too. Then also their work environments can become hazardous and harming.
This is why in the legislation amendments request to both the Alberta and Canadian government, I am requesting they also address co-workers rights to a safe work environment when psychological violence is happening to another co-worker and so then the witnesses who intervene and stand-up for the target being bullied and harmed also have rights to a safe work environment. This is critical because if the bullies committing these attacks and assaults can keep the veil of silence with co-workers then it can become almost impossible to stop the violence. This is one key reason why many or most individuals being harassed and targeted non-physically at work simply leave at some point, and the injustices and resulting injuries go unresolved.
Imagine if Manwar happened to also be physically attack and injured because he intervened and then imagine if he was denied his right to safety and justice by the laws prohibiting physical assault? This would be justice and rights denied. Currently there are not adequate direct laws that functionally protect either the one being targeted or the witnesses from psychological violence at work.
We need to understand and talk about the mechanisms of non-physical violence at work and make the legislation also robust enough to ensure safety at work for the bystanders who want to intervene.
I believe many people want to do the right thing – intervening and standing-up to the violence in these cases.
It matters that we not only take action against all violence when we see it – but to learn, educate others about the importance and how to do it and to call on the leaders and professionals responsible to make changes in our systems. Like Manwar and Do Not Be a Bystander campaign group continues to do – thank-you for all your important work.
I am calling on the Albert Government for an amendment to the workplace Occupational Health and Safety Act to prohibit psychological violence in all its forms, and prohibit hazardous work environments caused by psychological violence. I have made this formal request in writing and I have a Legislative petition calling for the same…”
Please see www.ABRC.ca/petition for more information in my open letter to Albertans and the petition. There is still time to sign the petition and send-in. Thank-you!