Address Workplace Bullying – Lessons From Lewinsky’s TED Talk


Vancouver, 2015 – In a very personal talk, Monica Lewinsky shared her global scale shame experience in front of a TED Talk assembly. When the story broke in 1998, it was also the beginning of online media and Lewinsky was swept up into the eye of a political, legal and media maelstrom. Overnight, the 24-year-old woman went “to become a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one, worldwide.” During her speech, Lewinsky draws the parallel between this storm and what we today call “cyberbullying” or “online harassment.” She states that it led her to lose her “reputation and dignity” and almost her life.

What was then an extraordinary situation is now a more common story that is played out in our everyday lives. This was made extraordinary essentially because famous people and political figures were involved. Lewinsky’s talk is a very well articulate analysis of social media and bullying but most importantly and analysis of human behaviours and a call for all of us, to be more human and more compassionate.

The culture of humiliation

Although the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal was brought to the world by the digital revolution, this form of bullying and harassment seems to have become the norm. Survey after survey researchers have pointed out that workplace bullying is on the rise.  As Lewinsky states in her TED talk:

“The more we saturate our culture with shaming, the more accepted it is. The more we will see behaviours like bullying. This behaviour is a symptom of the culture we’ve created.”

Bullying in the workplace

Back to 2017. These days, it seems like everyone is talking about bullying and harassment. But what does it mean for you and your workplace?

With no surprise, bullying and harassment have negative effects on the bullied individual, other workers, and the overall workplace. For example, it brings:

  • Distracted concentration for workers
  • Physical and/or psychological injury
  • Lower productivity and morale
  • Higher absenteeism
  • Higher turnover rates
What is workplace bullying and harassment?
  1. At the morning meeting, your manager yells at you in front of all of your co-workers? This can be considered workplace bullying and harassment as yelling in this context is likely to cause intimidation or humiliation.
  2. Your manager speaks to you about continuing to arrive late for work and indicates that there could be consequences if there’s no immediate improvement? This is not workplace bullying and harassment as it relates to reasonable actions related to work duties.

In short, workplace bullying and harassment is any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards a worker/coworker that the person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated. Bullying and harassment behaviours can include:

  • Verbal aggression or name-calling
  • Gossiping or spreading malicious rumours
  • Vandalizing belongings or workstations
  • Withholding information required for safe and/or effective work
  • Deliberately excluding someone from official workplace activities
  • Bullying through email, texts, or social media

What bullying and harassment is not:

  • Making a legitimate complaint about another worker’s inappropriate conduct
  • Expressing differences of opinion
  • Offering constructive feedback or advice about work

In the end, it’s all about providing feedback and communication in a respectful manner.

Preventing and addressing workplace bullying and harassment

Employers have an obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent bullying and harassment or minimize it, where possible. They must also develop a policy statement that addresses bullying and harassment in the workplace and develops a procedure for reporting incidents and dealing with it.

Employer’s responsibility: As an employer, you should have a workplace policy statement in order to prevent or minimize bullying and harassment. You should also develop and implement reporting and investigative procedures, train workers and supervisors, and perform an annual review of these policy statements and procedures.

Workers’ responsibility: Workers can help fight that kind of behaviour by complying with the policy and procedures and reporting bullying and harassment if they observe or experience it in the workplace.

Managers’ responsibility: As a manager, it is part of your duty to ensure the health and safety of all workers under your supervision. You should also apply and comply with the policies and procedures, provide leadership, and ensure that your staff does not bully or harass others. You are here to receive complaints and report the information to higher management for investigation.

Every organization should provide a safe, respectful and productive work environment for their staff. Bullying or harassment is an unwanted behaviour that is verbally or physically abusive and creates a hostile or intimidating environment for working, learning or living.