A new survey has revealed that half of all Australian employees experience workplace bullying during their careers.
The report by beyondblue defined bullying as repeated, unreasonable behaviour towards a worker that creates risk to health and safety.
Workplace bullying is estimated to cost the economy $6–36 billion annually
This behaviour can take different forms and may be non-physical; it can include verbal abuse, humiliation, social isolation, withholding information, and spreading rumours.
Workplace bullying can also extend beyond the working environment – for example, through online harrassment, emails or texts – and it can extend outside working hours.
It can happen in any type of workplace and to an employee of any role and position – from front-line employees through to CEOs.
Young males who had limited social support at work, and those who worked in stressful environments were found to be most at risk.
More than 1,500 workers were surveyed for the study and literature review.
What they found was that one in two workers will experience bullying in their career.
Of those bullied, 40% of people experienced workplace bullying early in their career and between 5 and 7% had been bullied in the previous six months.
There’s a strong link between workplace bullying and mental health, says Georgie Harman, CEO of beyondblue.
“Those who experience and perpetrate workplace bullying have higher rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and health problems such as cardiovascular disease,” she said.
Workplace bullying can affect people in a number of ways, including:
- distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance
- physical illness, such as muscular tension, headaches and digestive problems
- reduced work performance
- loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation
- deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends
- increased risk of suicide.
Workplace bullying doesn’t just hurt those involved – the wider workplace also feels the effects through lost productivity, increased absenteeism, poor morale, and time spent documenting, pursuing or defending claims.
In 2010, the Productivity Commission found that bullying at work costs Australian organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year in lost productivity.
What employers should do about workplace bullying
Current attempts to deal with workplace are failing because strategies and policies tend to target individuals, including the perpetrator and the victim, rather than the organisation that allows the bullying to occur, according to Ms Harman.
“We need to be targeting the organisations where there is a culture of bullying and empowering employees through communication.”
Pedro Pessoa, Andatech’s workplace health and safety specialist, agrees. “Employers should ensure their workplace has a code of conduct or anti-bullying policy, including how to deal with unacceptable behaviour.”
Mr Pessoa recommends that workplace policies are reviewed regularly and that everyone is involved in the process.
“Workplace policies should inform employees on how to report bullying, and include a process that ensures transparency, confidentiality, available support, and fairness.”
“More importantly, it should include what will happen once the claim has been investigated.”
Workplaces should also respond to workplace bullying with fairness and transparency. Heads up recommends the following ten tips for responding to workplace bullying:
- Act promptly: Respond as soon as possible after becoming aware there is a problem.
- Treat all matters seriously: All reports should be taken seriously and assessed on their merits and facts.
- Ensure and unbiased investigation: Investigations should always be carried out by an experienced, unbiased person.
- Maintain confidentiality: Details of the matter should only be known by those directly involved.
- Ensure procedural fairness: The person who is alleged to have acted inappropriately should be treated as innocent unless the allegations are proven to be true. They must be given a chance to respond and explain their version of events.
- Be neutral: Impartiality towards everyone involved is critical – avoid personal or professional bias.
- Do not victimise: The person accused of workplace bullying and witnesses should also be protected from victimisation.
- Support everyone: Once a report has been made, everyone involved should be told what support is available.
- Communicate process and outcomes: Everyone involved should be informed of the organisation’s process, time frame, and expectations.
- Keep records: Records of the individuals involved, the incident, time and location should be made. Records should also be made of conversations, meetings and interviews detailing who was present and the agreed outcomes.
Whether you’re an employee or an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure that your workplace is free from workplace bullying. Any incidents should be reported and actions should be taken accordingly. Learn about your rights and how to make a complaint:
- Fair Work Commission: Apply for an order to stop bullying.
- Commonwealth, State or Territory Work Health and Safety Regulators: Get advice and report bullying incidents.
- The Australian Human Rights Commission: Get advice or make a complaint about discrimination, harassment and bullying covered by anti-discrimination laws.
- Safe Work Australia aims to improve work health and safety and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia.
- beyondblue’s Workplace bullying in Australia research: Learn about what you can do to prevent bullying in your workplace.
If you’re a victim of workplace bullying, do not be afraid to ask for help. Talk to someone and get support:
- Lifeline Australia 13 11 14: for crisis support and suicide prevention.
- beyondblue Support Service 1300 22 4636: if you’ve experienced bullying and it is affecting your mental health, talk things through with us.
If workplace bullying involves violence, abuse or stalking, contact your local police station.
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