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‘We can all contribute to an environment that’s free from bullying’

Exploring the ways that organizations can establish a workplace with a more inclusive culture

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Woman with head in hands at office deskThere are many practices and programs that employers can offer employees who are facing bullying in the workplace (Getty Images/Maskot)

Anti-bullying Day, also known as Pink T-Shirt Day in Canada, is observed every year on February 23. But being proactive against workplace bullying is a practice that must be observed daily. A study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found 37 per cent of respondents reported being bullied in the workplace, with 57 per cent of those being women.

“When people are in a place of fear, it drives your whole workplace down,” says David Dial, founder of Calgary-based Dial Solutions Group, a recruitment company.

Here’s what companies can do to ensure bullying does not permeate their organizational culture.


Canada has occupational health and safety laws that account for bullying and many provinces have their own workplace harassment and violence laws that bullying also falls under. This means that bullying is a workplace hazard, “So an employer must develop a prevention plan, policy and procedures,” says Dial.

This can include a standard code of conduct, anti-harassment policy, ombuds program, a confidential feedback option on the intranet, as well as mental health supports. These programs and policies should also define and encompass cyber bullying.

At BDO Canada, the company’s approach to bullying remains the same across the country, despite differing provincial laws. This includes their “Respect in the Workplace Policy,” says Alicia DeFreitas, chief human resources officer at BDO.

In an effort to create an inclusive culture, the firm also hosts regular interactive training sessions for employees and executive members. “This is done to ensure that we all recognize and understand what bullying in the workplace means and how we can all contribute to an environment that’s free from it,” she says.


Company policies should clearly outline unacceptable behaviours, such as discrimination, inappropriate comments, intentionally leaving a team member out of meetings, etc., says Dial. [Visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety for more examples of bullying.]

Beyond identifying improper behaviour and actions, corporate policies should also include steps to address them. These might include speaking with the person directly, going to a manager or seeking guidance from HR and beginning an adjudication process.

Since those who experience bullying might have a fear of retribution, DeFreitas stresses that BDO works to ensure a culture free of reprimand when reporting any unwanted behaviour.

There can also be a fear of stigma that needs to be addressed. “People sometimes feel a lot of shame when they’re bullied,” Dial says. “It shouldn’t be that way. It should be the other way around. Bullies are the ones who should feel shame.”


Experts agree it takes more than regular training sessions to create a psychologically safe work environment.

Actively discussing acceptable and unacceptable behaviours without fear of repercussion is crucial, Dial says. The discussions should also include who is responsible for reporting adverse behaviour, as it goes beyond the person experiencing it. “When other people in the organization witness it, they [should] step in and say something,” says Dial.

DeFreitas adds that BDO also establishes a proactive leadership culture at the executive level by holding active discussions on an inclusive workplace.

“Integrity, respect, those are things that we talk about regularly and we want others to emulate. And that can only be done when you see them being modeled by those around you.”