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Management, Inappropriate Management or Psychological Harassment: Where do we draw the line?. Professor Angelo Soares Department of Organization and Human Resources UQÀM. Decent Society. "A decent society is one whose institutions do not humiliate people" Avishai Margalit. Decent Work.

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management inappropriate management or psychological harassment where do we draw the line

Management, Inappropriate Management or Psychological Harassment: Where do we draw the line?

Professor Angelo Soares

Department of Organization and Human Resources


decent society

Decent Society

"A decent society is one whose institutions do not humiliate people"

Avishai Margalit

decent work

Decent Work

Decent work is work where there is an effort to prevent situations where workers feel humiliated. 

Work is decent when management and organizations ensure that their workers have no reason to feel humiliated.




Avishai Margalit



Humiliation is often a factor in psychological harassment in the workplace.

carroll brodsky 1976

Carroll Brodsky (1976)

"Harassment is behavior that involves repeated and persistent attempts by one person to torment, wear down, frustrate, or get a reaction from another. It is behavior that persistently provokes, pressures, frightens, intimidates, or otherwise discomforts another person."

bill 143 quebec

Bill 143 – Quebec

For the purposes of this Act, "psychological harassment" means any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures, that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee.

bill 143 quebec cont d

Bill 143 – Quebec (cont’d)

A single serious incidence of such behaviour that has a lasting harmful effect on an employee may also constitute psychological harassment.

bill 143 quebec cont d12

Bill 143 – Quebec (cont’d)

All employees have the right to a work environment free from psychological harassment.

Employers must take all reasonable action to prevent psychological harassment and, whenever they become aware of such behaviour, to put a stop to it.

recourse against psychological harassment

Recourse Against Psychological Harassment

An employee who believes he has been the victim of psychological harassment may file a complaint in writing with the Commission des normes du travail.

If the Commission des relations du travail considers that the employee has been the victim of psychological harassment and that the employer has failed to fulfil its obligations, it may render any decision it believes fair and reasonable, taking into account all the circumstances of the matter, including:

recourse against psychological harassment14

Recourse Against Psychological Harassment

(1) ordering the employer to reinstate the employee;

(2) ordering the employer to pay the employee an indemnity up to a maximum equivalent to wages lost;

(3) ordering the employer to take reasonable action to put a stop to the harassment;

(4) ordering the employer to pay punitive and moral damages to the employee;

recourse against psychological harassment15

Recourse Against Psychological Harassment

(5) ordering the employer to pay the employee an indemnity for loss of employment;

(6) ordering the employer to pay for the psychological support needed by the employee for a reasonable period of time determined by the Commission;

(7) ordering the modification of the disciplinary record of the employee.

february 2005 commission des normes du travail cnt

February 2005 – Commission des normes du travail (CNT)

1,580 complaints

- 1,030 files being processed (65%)

- 550 files closed (35%)

12 unfounded complaints (2%)

110 agreements (20%)

2 investigation reports sent to the Commission des relations du travail

four dimensions always present

Four Dimensions Always Present

The persistent nature of the action; 

The repetitive nature of the action; 

The effects are always negative, devastating and destructive for the targeted persons; 

The definition emphasizes the impact on the target person and not the intentions of the person who harasses.

myth 1

Myth 1

The definition of psychological harassment is not clear.

bullying mobbing

Bullying = Mobbing


(Stale Einarsen, Helge Hoel, Dieter Zapf and Cary L. Cooper, 2003)

Moral harassment = psychological harassment

myth 2 link to management

Myth 2(Link to Management)

It's not psychological harassment, it's managers exercising their rights.

It's not psychological harassment, it's leaders being tough.

managing rights

Managing Rights

The manager has the prerogative to decide how to manage.

The manager's rights can be explicitly set out in the collective agreement.

managing rights23

Managing Rights

Economic aspects: financing, investment, prices, nature of products, etc.

Production: organizing production, determining manufacturing processes, making decisions pertaining to organizational change, sub-contracting, etc. 

Human resources management: staffing, staff assignments, discipline, promotions, demotions, dismissals, etc.

Source: Dion, Gérard

human resources management

Human Resources Management

Knowledge of the business: finance, marketing, strategy, technology, production, etc.

Knowledge of human resources practices: staffing, communication, performance appraisal, rewards, organizational development, etc. 

Knowledge of change management: identifying change-related problems, crafting a leadership style, building trust among the various organizational stakeholders, etc.

Source: Dave Ulrich

human resources management hrm and harassment

Human Resources Management (HRM) and Harassment

In situations of psychological harassment, the problem most often relates to:

- HRM practices

- change management 

Thus, the psychological harassment is caused by improper human resources management. 

It must be noted that in such cases, no judgment is made as to whether there was an intention to harass someone.

hrm practices

HRM Practices

Communication (feedback)

Performance appraisal (feedback)



Conflict management

hrm practices communication feedback

HRM Practices(Communication – feedback)

My representative told him: "We are ready to go to your office." His office is just on the other side. Then, he turned around and said: "No." He said: "I'm going to do this in front of everyone," and then he began yelling all sorts of things in a nasty tone. Three times the union representative told him: "Let's go into your office, it's not appropriate to do this in front of everyone." I just stood there. Another woman, who has worked in the office for years, got up and said: "Mr. X, this is not the place for such behaviour, have some dignity." He paid her no attention. Then, the representative told me: "Let's go back upstairs." We went upstairs but I was shocked, and humiliated too. (Ms. A).

hrm practices communication feedback28

HRM Practices(Communication – feedback)

Establish a climate of trust

Give feedback when it is most appropriate for the recipient, and do so one on one

Offer praise along with criticism

Show consideration and respect 

Refrain from passing judgment

- do not judge

- do not ascribe intention

- be specific and descriptive

Be clear and specifi 

Be empathetic

hrm practices communication feedback29

HRM Practices(Communication – feedback)

"When + I + Why 


n + the specific behaviour

I + the feelings experienced, by the person providing the feedback, at the time of the behaviour

Why + the consequences of the behaviour

"When you arrived late this morning, I was upset because I was counting on your expertise to clarify the budget issue, which was the most important item on the agenda."

hrm practices communication feedback30

HRM Practices(Communication – feedback)

"At the end of a week, he came directly to the department. It took a week and he came to tell me I was incompetent. I said, listen, could we meet to discuss what's wrong? And he said 'no, I don't need you to come to my office, I can say in front of everyone that you aren't doing a good job.' He was cursing too. He yelled at me in front of all my co‑workers." (Ms. B)

hrm practices discipline

HRM Practices(Discipline)

Verbal reprimand

Written disciplinary notice

Short-term suspension without pay

Long-term suspension without pay


hrm practices discipline32

HRM Practices(Discipline)

Disciplinary action is taken when an employee knowingly violates the rules.

Prepare a file.



Louis, 44 years of age, has worked for the company for 23 years and is responsible for maintaining the production equipment. He has been the victim of psychological harassment. He has been falsely accused of making mistakes. He has been denied promotions for no justifiable reason. His salary has been decreased. His employer is putting together a file to dismiss him. It is really about his seniority, because he is starting to cost the company a lot of money ($18.31 an hour).



Laura, 45 years of age, has been a waitress in a restaurant for six years. "It has been going on for six months and I've already lost 5 kg." She is the target of verbal harassment and veiled threats. She can't quit and the employer can't dismiss her because he has no grounds, so he is doing all he can to make her leave.



The psychological harassment endured by an employee and the employer's expectations concerning that employee's performance are two separate elements and they should not be confused, especially when dismissal is involved.



The complainant challenged his dismissal, which occurred one year after he was hired as a tax recovery officer with the Department of Revenue. He alleged that he had been dismissed solely because his immediate supervisor, the section chief, did not like him. He also alleged that he had been the target of psychological harassment since the first day of his employment.

The arbitrator found that his poor performance had led to his dismissal, although he acknowledged that the employee's supervisor did carry out psychological harassment. Therefore, the arbitrator allowed the employee's grievance in part:

- he ordered the employer to pay the employee an indemnity for the harassment he endured

- he rejected the employee's request for reinstatement

hrm practices leadership

HRM Practices(Leadership)

Leadership: a type of interpersonal influence through which one individual leads another individual or group to properly carry out a task.

A number of theories:

- Leadership based on consideration for others

- Leadership based on task structuring

- Situational leadership

hrm practices leadership38

HRM Practices(Leadership)

However, leadership can be poor or non-existent

- Laissez-faire: Leader shirks responsibilities and avoids making decisions. Group members are left to their own devices. Results are all negative.

- Results: Poor performance, wasted time, inefficiency, dissatisfaction, group ineffectiveness, aggressive behaviour, divisions within the group.

hrm practices leadership39

HRM Practices(Leadership)

Incompetent leadership: Leader lacks the will and/or ability to maintain effective action. With respect to at least one important leadership challenge, does not manage to produce positive change.

Rigid leadership: Leader is rigid and inflexible. Although may be competent, is incapable of or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information or changing times.

hrm practices leadership40

HRM Practices(Leadership)

Overbearing leadership: Leader lacks self control and is encouraged and backed up by supporters who refuse or are unable to intervene effectively.

Insensitive leadership: Leader is insensitive and disagreeable. Needs, complaints and wishes of most members of the group or organization, particularly subordinates, are ignored or overlooked.

hrm practices leadership41

HRM Practices(Leadership)

Corrupt leadership: Leader lies, cheats or steals. To an abnormal extent, puts own interests ahead of the public interest.

Narrow-minded leadership: Leader minimizes or does not take into account health and well-being of “others,” i.e. those outside the group or organization for which the leader is directly responsible.

Malicious leadership: Leader commits atrocities. Uses suffering as an instrument of power. Harm done to men, women and children is quite serious. Harm may be physical, psychological or both.

laissez faire


Helen has been working as a server for a year and a half. She is being harassed by a co‑worker because she was given the shift where servers make the best money. This co‑worker has struck her, issued death threats and subjected her to verbal abuse. The labour standards board told her to call the police but she is reluctant to react, since she doesn’t want to lose her job. She has talked to the owner about it, but the owner doesn’t want to get involved in conflicts between her employees.

hrm practices conflict management

HRM Practices(Conflict Management)

Conflict: A process that begins when one individual sees that another individual has had an adverse effect on or is about to have an adverse effect on something the first individual considers important.

hrm practices conflict management44

HRM Practices(Conflict Management)

The goal is conflict resolution—eliminating the underlying causes of the conflict

Unresolved conflicts pave the way for other conflicts

types of conflicts

Types of Conflicts

Substantive conflict: Related to differences in views and opinions

- task-based

- concerns goals to be pursued or means of achieving them

- usually functional conflict

Emotional conflict: Related more to a person than to a problem. Manifests through feelings of anger, mistrust, animosity, fear and bitterness

- dysfunctional conflict

conflict management

Conflict Management

Indirect management: Does not attack problems face on or try to resolve them by bringing together the people involved

Direct management: Tries to resolve the conflict. It takes time and energy to find a solution

indirect conflict management

Indirect Conflict Management

Decrease in interdependence:

- involves eliminating or restricting contact between the parties in conflict

Appeal to shared objectives:

- refocuses the parties’ attention on the objectives to be achieved

indirect conflict management48

Indirect Conflict Management

Recourse to higher authorities

Problems are sent up the line for superiors to solve.

ATTENTION! Managers may be inclined to reduce conflicts to personalities.

- Too much stress

- Incompetence in managing conflicts

- Fundamental bias in assigning responsibility

escalation of conflict

Escalation of Conflict

Level 3

9 - Total destruction and suicide

8 - Fragmentation of the enemy

7 - Campaigns of destruction

Level 2

6 – Threat strategies

5 - Loss of face, moral excesses

4 - Reputations, images and coalitions

escalation of conflict50

Escalation of Conflict

Level 2

3 – Documents, not discussions

2 - Polarization: debates and polemics

1 - Attempts at cooperation, tensions and crystallization

myth 3

Myth 3

(Defence Mechanism)

It’s not harassment, it’s a personality conflict.

myth 4 stigmatization

Myth 4(Stigmatization)

People who are harassed have done something to deserve it.

It takes two to play that game.

blaming the victim

Blaming the Victim

People who have not experienced harassment think the victim must have done something to cause the psychological harassment; the victim must have behaved in such a way as to make the perpetrator act in this awful manner.

blaming the victim54

Blaming the Victim

People who have not experienced psychological harassment can continue to consider themselves safe or invulnerable if they can convince themselves that they are protected by being the kind of people they are.

By blaming the victims, people not only maintain their own illusion of invulnerability and safety but also minimize their feeling of responsibility for supporting the victims.

blaming the victim55

Blaming the Victim

Victims are stigmatized because they are going to break through the defence mechanisms that people have been erected to protect themselves from suffering.

People who have experienced harassment are powerful reminders of what can happen to anyone.

myth 5 personalization

Myth 5(Personalization)

Harassment only happens to people who are weak.

Harassment happens to people who are atypical.

People who complain of harassment are too sensitive.

psychological harassment versus personality

Psychological Harassment versus Personality

Thus far, no specific personality traits have ever been associated with people who have experienced psychological harassment.

The causes lie in the social context and the power structures of organizations (Leymann, 1993; Vartia, 1996; Salin, 2003; Soares, 2002 and 2004)

myth 6 linked to gender

Myth 6(Linked to Gender)

Women are usually the victims of psychological harassment.

Women are more often the perpetrators of harassment, because they are more psychologically twisted, more spiteful

gender in harassment

Gender in Harassment

Men are more hesitant to file a complaint, since it doesn’t fit with the macho image.

Women seek psychological help more often than men do.

gender in harassment60

Gender in Harassment

In a traditionally female environment, attacks focused on people’s private lives are more often directed against men.

In a traditionally male environment, attacks focused on people’s private lives are more often directed against women

gender in harassment61

Gender in Harassment

The hostile strategies used against women are associated with verbal violence. The aim is to prevent the victim from expressing herself.

The hostile strategies used against men are designed more to discredit them in their work.

gender in harassment62

Gender in Harassment

Men are more often told that they are mentally ill. Here, the intention is to discredit the victim in the workplace.

sex of person perpetrating harassment

Sex of Person Perpetrating Harassment (%)

Study 1 – Traditionally Female Environment



Male and Female

sex of person perpetrating harassment64

Sex of Person Perpetrating Harassment (%)

Study 2 – Traditionally Male Environment



Male and Female

myth 7

Myth 7

People who say they are being harassed don’t want to work.

myth 8

Myth 8

You can’t develop post-traumatic stress as a result of harassment.

post traumatic stress disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a state of intense fear, terror and powerlessness caused by an unusual event that poses a real threat to a person’s life or physical integrity. Its main symptoms are:

post traumatic stress disorder68

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Memory problems, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, apathy, irritability, feelings of insecurity, difficulty falling asleep, early awakening, etc.

post traumatic stress disorder69

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A change in personality can occur when post-traumatic stress reaches a chronic phase.



myth 9

Myth 9

If you are being harassed, it is because you are not capable of confronting your harasser.

strategies used to deal with psychological harassment

Strategies used to deal with psychological harassment

Study 1 

I confronted the person(s) harassing me (51.5%)

I ignored the person(s) harassing me (33.1%)

I reported the harassment to a union representative (27.8%)

I ignored the harassment (24.3%)

I asked for the harassment to stop (17.2%)

I reported the harassment to Human Resources (9.5%)

I asked for a job transfer (7.1%)

I couldn’t do anything (6.5%)

I filed a grievance (5.9%)

I threatened to tell everyone about the harassment (1.8%)

strategies used to deal with psychological harassment72

Strategies used to deal with psychological harassment

Study 2

I ignored the person(s) harassing me (34.1%)

I confronted the person(s) harassing me (32.9%)

I ignored the harassment (26.3%)

I reported the harassment to a union representative (21.0%)

I couldn’t do anything (12.6%)

I asked for a job transfer (12.0%)

I asked for the harassment to stop (11.4%)

I filed a grievance (5.4%)

I reported the harassment to Human Resources (5.4%)

myth 10

Myth 10

If I tell someone, no one will believe me.

We will never be able to prove that it’s psychological harassment.

You should not pursue it further because it will just prolong your suffering. It is better to leave and let it go.

to counter psychological harassment at work

To Counter Psychological Harassment at Work



Change in work organization

Change in management model

Organizational policy

Collective agreement


psychological harassment at work

The four groups

Study 2001

Study 2003

Currently experiencing harassment - VH



Previously experienced harassment - DH



Witnessed harassment - TH



Never experienced harassment - JH



Psychological Harassment at Work (%)

what can we do as individuals

What can we do as individuals?

Take note of all actions

- Dates, schedules, nature of remarks, criticisms, accusations, emotions and feelings

- Answers given.

strategies to be adopted

Strategies to be Adopted

Confrontation is not a good solution.

Try to stay calm and always be polite.

Keep copies of your annual appraisals, letters and memos about your ability to perform the work.

what can we do as a group

What can we do as a group?

Be aware of the problem

-Many people think that psychological harassment is inevitable, that it is just part of the workplace, that it happens only to “weak” people.

Training materials, posters, brochures, etc. If your organization has a newsletter or news bulletin, you can include an article about psychological harassment.



In addition to providing psychological support, it is crucial to show solidarity with the victim of PH and the witnesses.

This show of solidarity will bring the group together and provide the support required to deal with the consequences of PH.

This solidarity will also show that it is not just one person but the whole organization that has been affected and that must react.

The importance of the return-to-work program.

organizational policy balashev syndrome

Organizational Policy(Balashev syndrome)

The Balashev syndrome describes resistance by an organizational structure and/or organizational culture to the implementation of certain organizational policies.

Because of this syndrome, the existence of an organizational policy against psychological harassment is not in itself sufficient to prevent psychological harassment.

Many organizational policies exist in theory only, in a binder on a shelf. People are not very familiar with them or applying them is very complex, costly and disheartening. Therefore, in reality, there is no organizational policy capable of protecting the organization.

need for the policy to be a living document

Need for the Policy to be a “Living Document”

Make sure people are familiar with your policy on psychological harassment in the workplace.

Make sure it is a dynamic policy.

Stress the positive and preventive aspects of your policy.