The Virus of Disrespect: Recent Reflections


Recently, I have been busy conducting workshops on the new Worksafe BC changes related to harassment and bullying. While it has been a positive experience (check out the amazing feedback we received!), the many “conversations around conflict” I have had reminded me that, of all workplace issues, disrespect and dysfunction create the most emotional and costly damage to individuals, teams, departments and overall workplace environments.

It is “normal”, particularly at this time of year, for individuals to suffer from the common cold, headaches and flus. However, it is NOT normal for employees to suffer from stomach aches, headaches, sleep deprivation and generalized anxiety because of the “human viruses” within their workplaces.

These “viruses” are those individuals who use their erratic moods, unpredictable responses, and aggressive and dysfunctional behaviours (e.g. gossip, silent treatment, negativity, and overbearing opinions to name but a few) to create a toxic and unhealthy environment for those around them.

These individuals may hold any position within the workplace: they may be labourers, IT consultants, financial officers, custodians, health care professionals, educators … the list is endless. They may be union officials or senior management. They may be young or old, male or female. They may be front-line staff, managers or leaders of an organization. They may be borderline performers or technical geniuses. Their public “profile”, educational level, position on the organizational chart or overall “competence” in peforming their duties does not and should not matter. What matters is the consistently destructive effect that their behaviour has on everyone around them.

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, journalist Stephen Quinn describes living in a “culture of mean”. Similarly, the human viruses of which I speak are experts in creating and maintaining a “culture of dysfunction”.

During my travels, I heard countless real-life stories, from individuals at all levels of organizatons, about the “dread” they feel when thinking about or going to their workplaces. Women and men, professionals and labourers, front line staff and managers all shared similar scenarios: sitting in their cars or at their desks or in their beds at night trying to stifle and cope with their nausea, anxiety and sleeplessness over having to work with the “human viruses” at their workplace. They think and re-think the negative encounters they have had, and imagine with dread those yet to come, and spend endless amounts of time strategizing over how best to manage what is, in fact, an unmanageable situation.

We do not have any control over the real viruses floating around that are making our employees and management teams sick. We do, however, have control over the human viruses that are creating the very same symptoms and destruction. Simply put, we need to hold these folks accountable for their unacceptable behaviour. It is time to for us to stop tolerating intolerant behaviour.

I will continue to do my best to support you in creating a healthier workplace. Together, let’s do what we can to detect, diagnose and address these viruses. Let me know how I can help.


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