What Are You Doing to Address Counterproductive Behaviours?
calendar icon May 2nd, 2018
What Are You Doing to Address Counterproductive Behaviours?

In 2017, the Government of Canada surveyed Canadians to determine the prevalence of harassment in the workplace. According to the results, 50% of respondents experienced harassment from an individual with authority over them and 44% experienced harassment from a co-worker.


Incivility, harassment, bullying and violence are known as counterproductive behaviours. Do you and your colleagues know how to address counterproductive behaviours in the workplace?


Prevalence of Workplace Harassment

A total of 1,349 respondents completed the 2017 Government of Canada survey. 1005 respondents identified as female and 200 identified as male. Over 35% of respondents had a bachelor’s degree, nearly 32% of respondents had a degree above the bachelor’s level, and over 61% of respondents lived in Ontario.


The survey results identified that 60% of workers had experienced harassment, 30% had experienced sexual harassment, 21% had experienced violence and 3% had experienced sexual violence. As harassment is typically an ongoing pattern of behaviour, most workers reported they had experienced this more than once in the past two years.


The literature supports that there are three types of bullying: top down, lateral and bottom up. The Government of Canada survey identified that 50% of respondents experienced harassment from an individual with authority over them (top down) and 44% experienced the harassment from a co-worker (lateral).


Defining Counterproductive Behaviours

Workplace incivility, harassment, bullying and violence are known as counterproductive behaviours. Each term is defined based on the level of aggression and frequency.


Workplace Incivility: Seemingly insignificant behaviour that is rude, discourteous, insensitive or disrespectful, with ambiguous or unclear intent to harm (e.g. giving dirty looks, speaking in a condescending tone, side conversation during a formal business meeting/presentation, or asking for input and then ignoring it).


Workplace Harassment: A course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome and/or workplace sexual harassment (OHSA 1 (1)).


Workplace Bullying: Repeated and persistent negative acts towards one or more individual(s), which involve a perceived power imbalance and create a hostile work environment.


While each case is unique, examples of harassment and bullying can include: criticizing, insulting, blaming, reprimanding or condemning an employee in public, exclusion from group activities or assignments without valid reason, statements damaging to a person’s reputation, making sexually suggestive remarks, physical contact such as touching or pinching, removing areas of responsibility for no real reason, inappropriately giving too little or too much work, constantly overruling authority without just cause, and unjustifiably monitoring everything that is done.


It is also important to point out what is not considered harassment and bullying, such as the carrying out of managerial duties where the direction was executed respectfully and professionally, allocating work, following up on work absences, requiring performance to job standard, and taking corrective or disciplinary measures when justified.


Workplace Violence: The exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, an attempt to exercise physical force against a worker, and/or a statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker (OHSA 1 (1)).


Ontario Workplace Harassment Legislation

In developing and maintaining a workplace harassment program, the employer must consult with the Joint Health & Safety Consultant and/or Health & Safety Representative. The Occupational Health & Safety Act (OHSA) requires that employers prepare a written Workplace Harassment Policy and post the policy in the workplace. The employer must also develop and implement an investigation process. This includes measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment (WPH) to their supervisor (or another party should the supervisor/employer be the harasser). The process should also set out how incidents or complaints of WPH will be investigated and dealt with, how information will not be disclosed unless disclosure is necessary, and how the alleged victim and alleged harasser will be informed of the results of the investigation and corrective actions (OHSA 32.0.6 – 32.0.8).


The employer is also required to provide information and instruction to workers on the contents of the policy and program, and to review the policy and overall program at least annually.


Addressing Counterproductive Behaviours in the Workplace

As an employer, you have the responsibility to address hazards associated with counterproductive behaviours. At PSHSA, we recommend the following model to help you R.A.C.E to prevent counterproductive behaviours in the workplace.

Recognize the potential signs and symptoms, such as grievances, declining work performance and poor morale. Managers should also recognize and evaluate their management skills and style. Do you consciously or unconsciously endorse and perhaps even encourage counterproductive behaviours?


Assess whether or not bullying or harassment is occurring, and if the alleged perpetrator qualifies as a bully using assessment tools.


Control the hazard by implementing the steps for developing a workplace harassment prevention program. This involves setting the standard, communicating the standard, providing training on what behaviour is considered counterproductive and implementing processes for responding to these behaviours. Controlling the hazard also includes enforcing the standard and developing a continual action plan. Refer to cognitive rehearsal programs as an intervention to identify counterproductive behaviours and how to respond to these behaviours.


Evaluate ongoing specific strategies and plans to determine effectiveness in preventing and minimizing incidents. Consult with the Joint Health & Safety Committee or Health & Safety Representative.


In creating and maintaining a culture of civility, it is important for managers to monitor behaviours within the workplace and evaluate what is working and what can be further improved. Here are some general tips for workplaces to address counterproductive behaviours:



  • ENCOURAGE everyone to act in a respectful and professional manner.
  • INFORM everyone that bullying is a serious matter.
  • ADDRESS incivility before it is “out of control”.
  • EDUCATE everyone about harassment and how to report.
  • TREAT all complaints seriously, and deal with complaints promptly and confidentially.
  • TRAIN supervisors and managers in how to deal with complaints and potential situations.
  • HAVE an impartial third party help with the resolution, if necessary.



  • IGNORE any potential problems.
  • DELAY resolution; you should act as soon as possible.


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