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Editorial: Bully bosses beware

Published on April 6, 2017

If you’ve been in the workforce for long enough, you’ve probably experienced one or two along the way.

A boss who yelled, insulted or belittled his or her way to the top; a workplace where the overriding climate is one of keeping your head down so the next barrage of bile doesn’t end up on your desk; an office where the whole tone changes for the better when the boss is on the road.

There’s a clear difference between running a strict but fair workplace and operating one where a petty corporate despot makes it a living hell for everyone else.

The bully boss of old is still around, though it’s hard to understand why.

There’s a clear difference between running a strict but fair workplace and operating one where a petty corporate despot makes it a living hell for everyone else.

You would think everyone would realize by now that it’s counterproductive; workforces where employees don’t enjoy their jobs bleed talent, because those who can soon head for greener, less-bully-filled pastures. Workers can’t be expected to deliver their best work when they are working out of fear, rather than pride in their work.

But now, not only are hostile workplaces bad corporate investments, they also could wind up being expensive for companies in other ways.

A case in Prince Edward Island is making that point in a whole new way. Eric Donovan was 47 when he died of a heart attack. For 17 years, he’d worked with P.E.I.’s Queens Country Residential Services, which is a not-for-profit that operates group homes and programs for intellectually challenged adults.

Donovan’s widow went to that province’s Workers Compensation Board to argue that her husband’s death should be covered by the agency, because workplace stress led to his heart attack, and was caused by workplace bullying and harassment.

As documents describe, the treatment of Donovan by his boss, Nadine Hendricken, included “demeaning, conflictual, rude and hostile personal comments, most of which were in the presence of coworkers and clients.”

After three years, Lisa Donovan won her case, in December 2016.

Donovan’s doctor, George Carruthers, said his patient didn’t have a pre-existing heart condition, adding in his report, “Mr. Donovan had significant stress from his relationship with his supervisor at work … he often voiced how difficult the relationship was, the sense of being bullied and the resultant stress, anxiety and panic attacks.”

Four other employees signed affidavits about bullying at the agency.

Lisa Donovan said she launched the action on principle, telling the Charlottetown Guardian, “It doesn’t bring Eric back, but to say this is what happened to my husband and that maybe his legacy will be that other people don’t have to suffer.”

The case is under appeal, but the message should be clear, if it wasn’t clear enough already.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex of the corner office should be just like every other dinosaur — extinct.