On April 26th I spoke at the BC Human Resources convention in Vancouver. During my presentation I talked about the fact that in spite of my overwhelming interest in supporting my clients to be proactive and preventative, the main focus of my work is “fixing” relationships that have gone off the rails, relationships that have become unhealthy and often toxic for the individuals involved.

In most cases it is disrespectful, power based behavior that causes these relationships to become toxic. Workplace bullying is defined as harm inducing behavior because if it is not stopped, the result is psychological harm to the person targeted.

This month the Mental Health Commission of Canada is releasing voluntary standards to support Canadian employers in achieving psychologically healthy workplaces. What prompted the Commission to release these standards was a study conducted last year which found that between 10 and 25% of Canadian workplaces are “mentally injurious” to their employees, translating to a cost for Canadian employers of $51 billion. Another interesting fact from the Commission’s research is that over the last 5 years the increase in damages awarded for workplace mental health has gone up 700%.

There are two critical steps in preventing or dealing with toxic relationships: one is to recognize them, the second is to take effective action to deal with them.

Would you or your employees recognize potentially toxic behaviors?

In my experience many of us don’t. This creates a huge liability for us, both in our workplaces and in our personal lives. The key to preventing a relationship from becoming toxic is to recognize the “red flags”: behaviors that signal the danger of disrespect in a relationship. Here’s a list of “red flag” behaviors to watch out for:

  • Comments, or actions that have the effect of undermining your self-confidence or sense of self.
  • Insulting, degrading or humiliating comments, including those disguised as jokes, particularly in front of others.
  • Frequent fits of anger, temper tantrums, emotion such as yelling, shouting, crying.
  • Actions that have the effect of excluding or isolating you from others.
  • Refusing to speak to you, giving you the “silent treatment”, being condescending or patronizing.
  • Intruding on your personal privacy.
  • Any type of physical violence or threat of physical violence.
  • Blaming you without justification, or taking credit for your work or accomplishments.
  • Being overly controlling or dominant, cutting you off, interrupting you, refusing to listen to you.
  • Withholding information you need to be successful.

Just like at the beach, the red flag means potential danger. When we recognize the “red flags” we have the opportunity to take action, to address and resolve the problem before harm, both to employees and the organizational bottom line, results.