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How can we prevent workplace bullying and harassment?

Worrying levels of bullying and harassment

A report of psychological safety climate and worker health in Australia (the Australian Workplace Barometer project) found a serious concern regarding the levels of workplace bullying and harassment1. The results are particularly alarming for women as they report significantly higher levels of bullying and for significantly longer periods of time. Disturbingly the project also found that over 20 percent of workers are humiliated in front of others, and nearly 42 percent of males reported that they have been sworn or yelled at in the workplace.

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Apart from the serious mental and physical injury to workers, workplace harassment and/or bullying claims present a significant cost to businesses. Safe Work Australia found that the costs of workers compensation claims in 2018 for harassment and/or bullying was approximately $79 million2. Alarmingly, they also found that:

  • Claims for workers compensation for work related harassment and/or bullying are increasing, and
  • The compensation claims for harassment, bullying and workplace violence made by female employees were more than twice the rate compared to male employees (between 2016 to 2019)

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Creating a safe workplace

A clear message needs to be communicated to workers that the organisation is serious about preventing workplace bullying. Safe Work Australia3 have identified that demonstrated senior management commitment in identifying, preventing and responding to workplace bullying is one of the key factors for preventing unreasonable behaviour.

Strong commitment by senior management is crucial to combat workplace bullying

Strong commitment by senior management is crucial to combat workplace bullying

Creating an anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy

Senior management, especially the head of the organisation, needs to regularly communicate their ongoing commitment to the value of human psychological health and safety at work. This is done by creating organisational policies, practices and procedures which promote psychological health and morale, and oppose workplace bullying and harassment. In other words, your business needs to have in place a specific policy for Bullying and Harassment, which should be communicated across all aspects of the business.

Your Anti Bullying and Harassment Policy needs to be clearly communicated across the business

Your Anti-Bullying and Harassment Policy needs to be clearly communicated across the business

Factors which may increase workplace bullying

Research indicates that there are a number of factors which may increase the risk of workplace bullying occurring3. The presence of the following characteristics could contribute to increased risks: 

  • The presence of work stresses such as high job demands, limited job control, organisational restructuring, role conflict and ambiguity, job insecurity, unreasonable expectations of clients or customers
  • Poor leadership styles for example strict, autocratic behaviour or those where little or no guidance is provided to workers or where responsibilities are inappropriately delegated to subordinates
  • Acceptance of inappropriate, abusive or demeaning behaviours
  • Poor systems of work such as lack of training, resources, unachievable performance targets or inappropriate work scheduling
  • Poor workplace relationships such as isolation, poor communication, low level of support or work group hostility.
Unachievable job demands may lead to increased risk of bullying

Unachievable job demands may lead to increased risk of bullying

Secondary intervention to combat workplace bullying is aimed towards aspects of job designs including levels of job demands and resources. Managers who are concerned about their worker wellbeing will design job demands that are manageable and allocate sufficient resources (such as workplace training) to their workers.

Ongoing worker consultation to identify workplace bullying

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There may not be obvious signs of bullying at the workplace, however it does not mean it is not occurring. Workplace bullying can be identified by:

  • regular consultation with workers (including anonymous surveys) to find out if bullying is occurring or if there are factors that increases the risk of workplace bullying
  • seeking feedback when workers leave the business to find their reason for leaving
  • regular consultation with managers, supervisors or other stakeholders
  • monitoring incident reports, workers compensation claims, pattern of absenteeism, sick leave, staff turnover and records of grievances. This will help to establish unusual patterns or explained changes
  • recognising changes in workplace relationships between workers, customers and managers.

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Responding to workplace bullying

A worker who reasonably believes they have been bullied at work should report the unreasonable behaviour verbally or in writing  to their supervisor, manager or business owner. In larger organisations, the worker can also approach their Human Resource team, a health and safety representative or a union representative.

The Fair Work Commission can also be approached for an order to stop the workplace bullying. More information is available at www.fwc.gov.au

 

 

Citations

1       Dollard, M., Bailey, T., McLinton, S., Richards, P., McTernan, W., Taylor, Bond, S., Dec 2012, The Australian Workplace Barometer: Report on Psychosocial Safety Climate and Worker Health in Australia, Safe Work Australia.

2       Safe Work Australia, 2021, Annual Statement: ‘Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces’, 6th edition.

3       Safe Work Australia, May 2016, Guide for Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying.

Resources