Recent research indicates that incivility and workplace abuse is on the rise. One would think it is because of an increase in peoples’ stress levels or a reaction to a weak economy. Dr. David Posen in his new book, “Is Work Killing You?” shares that his research has found a connection between bad behaviour and reality television.

In other words, Donald Trump yelling “you’re fired,” Simon Cowell berating “Idol” contestants, and Kevin O’Leary getting caustic with inventors has contributed to demeaning behavior in Canadian workplaces. Add to that the childish and rude, lewd and crude behavior of some local and federal politicians, and it is no surprise that workplaces are rife with negativity, prejudice and hurtful antics.

We need to remember that reality TV theatrics are not actually the norm. Even so-called ‘reality’ TV shows are still television programs designed for entertainment. The real workplace is not a stage, and the employees are not highly-paid actors pretending to be creeps or victims.

Some rude behavior is becoming so common place that individuals acting like jerks don’t even realize the negative impact they are having on colleagues. A coaching client I had didn’t realize that rolling their eyes, huffing an answer to questions asked by their staff, and implying that they found people stupid represented bullying and incivility.

They thought that if their VP and manager could use the ‘F-word’ in emails, along with all-caps and red font, and stay in leadership roles then so could they. “I’m a good manager. Look at my role models.”

The victims of these bullies and abusers live in fear of random beratings and walk on egg shells around these people. That’s no way to work. It is hardly fair that the abused are the ones with the ulcers and the anti-depressants, on top of their work load, but that is often the case in “sick” work environments. Dr. Posen offers this prescription for organizations and managers to deal with abusers in the workplace:

1. Identify the problem people.

      Look for tell tale signs. Who has trouble keeping staff? Which teams have higher absentee rates and sick leave? Read body language between team members, note conversational tone and eye contact or lack of. Read the mood of the office, be intuitive. Listen and ask around, find out who the troublemakers are.

2. Fix them. Give abusive people warning in writing, put them on a three month probation followed by a formal review. Document, document, document incidents and complaints. Arrange for a coach or an anger management course, whatever it takes to fix them.

3. Monitor their progress. Compliment them on positive progress and call them on it when they slip.

4. If they don’t get the message and cleanup their act, terminate them. Terminations are costly, but repairing years of damage to human psyches, self esteem and employee engagement is much more complicated and expensive.


Legislation has been passed in some provinces that protect workers in unsafe, your definition, or mentally toxic work environments. Know your rights and be sure to speak up for yourself if you are a victim of an abusive boss, co-worker or environment.

See also:

Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer

Author of Networking: How to Build Relationships That Count, How to Get a Job and Keep It

Co-author of The Power of Mentorship; The Mastermind Group

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