Printer icon Print Page

Bullying: Moving Out of the Schoolyard and Into the Workplace

Recent high-profile corporate bullying cases have shone a light on this distressing behaviour in Canadian workplaces.

Ottawa, February 24, 2015—Recent high-profile corporate bullying cases have shone a light on this distressing behaviour in Canadian workplaces. On the eve of Pink Shirt Anti-Bullying Day, a new primer report by The Conference Board of Canada, calls for employers to adopt proactive strategies to recognize and address increasing levels and the costly impact of workplace bullying.

“Bullying is not just a problem in schools. We’re seeing more instances of bullying in the workplace and employers need to recognize that workplace bullying is happening and that there are costs if the issue is ignored or poorly handled,” said Ruth Wright, Director, Leadership and Human Resources at The Conference Board of Canada. “Bullying in the workplace has an impact on the organization as a whole. It reflects a negative culture as well as performance and reputation.”


  • Workplace bullying has always quietly existed but today’s employees may be more inclined to break their silence.
  • Associated personal and organizational costs are varied and include legal expenses, absenteeism, reduced productivity, reduced job satisfaction and engagement, stress and psychological problems, employee turnover, and increased levels of disability leave.
  • Employers need to adopt proactive strategies to address bullying behaviour.

The report, Workplace Bullying Primer: What Is It and How to Deal With It, examines the issue of bullying in workplaces, the causes, and associated organizational and individual costs. It suggests that employers, who could be held legally responsible, need to take greater responsibility to address this detrimental behaviour.

While there are no large-scale studies of the instances of bullying in Canadian workplaces, findings related to specific work groups in Canada mirror the range of workplace bullying rates found in other countries. The most common type of bullying is top-down bullying, where a superior bullies an employee. However, lateral bullying (peer to peer), and bottom-up bullying (employee bullies superior) can also occur in the workplace.

One of the major means of bullying in the workplace is cyberbullying using email. Email allows people from all levels of an organization to place demands on each other, to jump the lines of authority, and to shift the work queue. It may also allow those doing the bullying to feel “anonymous.”

Cost associated with what the briefing refers to as a “silent epidemic” of bullying can include:

  • legal expenses;
  • absenteeism;
  • reduced productivity and work quality;
  • reduced employee job satisfaction and engagement;
  • stress; and
  • sickness and psychological problems.

In the worst case, workplace bullying can lead to increased employee turnover, disability leave, and employees suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

While there is no best way to handle all the different issues that may arise, there are proactive strategies organizations can adopt to deal with workplace bullying, including education, policies and procedures, investigation, coaching and, in more serious instances, applying legislation as required.

This briefing is co-authored by Ruth McKay, Associate Professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business and Jae Fraetzl, a Registered Art Therapist and is available from The Conference Board of Canada’s e-Library.

The Conference Board of Canada is pleased to partner with Ruth McKay, PhD and Jae Fratzl, MA.ATR, to offer an interactive workshop on Friday, June 12 in Ottawa that delves into how organizations can productively manage the silent phenomenon of bullying, and encourage appropriate interactions throughout the whole organization. Learn more about the Proactive Strategies for Managing Workplace Bullying workshop.

For more information contact

Corporate Communications

Monthly Newsletter

Get updates about Conference Board research and events by signing up for our monthly newsletter.

RSS Feed

RSS Feed  Subscribe to the Conference Board’s News Release RSS Feed

Access Our Research

Access to The Conference Board’s reports is free of charge to professional journalists upon request.

Access Our Experts

Our experts are available to share research insights. 

Connect with Us