Kira Vermond: Toxic workplaces more prevalent than we think

So, imagine you go in to work this morning and as you walk through the door, your heart begins to race. Your palms begin to sweat. And all you can think about is how quickly you can race to your desk before your boss sees you.
It's not because you're late. In fact, you often try to arrive early. Instead, you're doing your best to avoid your manager. That's because almost every time you see him, he's screaming at you. Or putting you down. And now other colleagues are beginning to whisper about you too.
Welcome to the toxic workplace. There's a good chance you're working in one right now. Or you have in the past. Some studies estimate that 12 percent of workers are bullied. Others peg it as high as 50 percent. And women are much more likely to be bullied than men.
The U.S. is now starting to take toxic workplaces seriously. Something called a Healthy Workplace Bill has been proposed in numerous states, but has yet to become law. But in England and Canada, bullying bosses - and the companies that employ them - have had to pay out million-dollar settlements. In fact, workplace bullying is illegal in Quebec and Saskatchewan.
It's a good start. But there's a problem with relying on the legal system to deal with every situation. Some toxic behaviours are incredibly subtle. Can you sue your coworkers because they're no longer asking you out for lunch? Of course not. But the intention to harm and to ostracize is still there.
So what can you do, short of hiring a lawyer, if you're being bullied?
  • If talking to the tyrant is getting you nowhere, talk to someone else. Start with a friend or a family member. Simply listening to yourself describe the incidents will be helpful. And you'll be getting support.
  • Keep a journal. Again, you're writing everything down so you have all the details, if you need them. Plus, writing is an outlet that keeps you from losing your mind.
  • You'll also want to keep copies of any bullying emails, notes, and letters.
  • Finally, figure out if you're dealing with a bullying boss, or a culture of bullying. Good employers will fire toxic employees, but poor ones will just keep rewarding the bad behaviour. That's because, in the short term at least, harassment seems to get results.
But at what cost? There's lost productivity, illness and turnover. Not only is a toxic workplace tough to work in, it's expensive to run. So much so, it's enough to make the sentiment, "It's nothing personal, it's just business" seem wildly outdated.