Australian workplaces are the worst in the world

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Research by a leading Australian work safety organisation has revealed that depression costs Australian employers a whopping $8 billion a year through sick leave and presenteeism – some $693 million of that is due to stress and bullying.

According to Safework Australia, work related stress has begun to represent such a huge cost to employers that by 2020 stress-related illnesses such as depression and cardiovascular disease will be the leading causes of the global disease burden.

The research found that workers with mild symptoms of depression take twice as many sick days as those who do not show any symptoms of depression at all. The number of working hours continues to be a major issue, and 18% of Australians work in excess of 48 hours per week. In turn, work-family conflict continues to be one of the major contributors to poor health and wellbeing.

One of the most at-risk groups included workers aged between 25 – 34 years, with this group displaying the poorest psychological health. But Linda Scott, registered psychologist and General Manager of Safety Consultants Australia, said it’s not enough for organisations to simply deal with individual cases of bullying and harassment. “While it is very important to manage these complaints professionally and compassionately, organisations need to start addressing some of the causes,” Scott said.

Some of the other findings from this report include:

  • Levels of bullying are at 6.8% – substantially higher than international rates
  • Nearly 42% of males report that they have been sworn at or yelled at in the workplace
  • Over 20% of workers have been humiliated in front of others and almost 20% have experienced discomfort due to sexual humour
  • Some 6.9% of women experience unwanted sexual advances and 14.8% of females in this sample experience unfair treatment due to gender.

Key takeaway:

Urgent attention is needed to address harassment issues in Australian workplaces. The costs to employers can be reduced considerably through initiatives that deal with incidents of bullying and harassment appropriately, build employee communication and by creating a positive culture that enables constructive communication and inhibits bullying behaviour.

  • Ross Jackson on 30/01/2013 3:02:51 PM

    Whilst not denying workplace bullying can be a very real problem, I always wonder to what extent these surveys reflect the reality that a cry of "bullying" has become almost a reflex response to any attempt by management to hold employees accountable for performance, particularly in the public sector. In my practice, I am advising HR professionals daily on how to deal with variations on this theme. Maybe we have become very rights aware,and very good at deflecting responsibility from ourselves in the workplace...

  • Hmmmmm on 30/01/2013 4:31:46 PM

    It is evident that there is a real problem regardless of how it is interperated.

    I ask you Ross...'Who is deflecting responsibilty'?

    It seems you are very skiled at it.

  • Robert Re on 30/01/2013 5:02:50 PM

    I believe the bulk of this sort of dysfunctional behaviour is a reflection of Organisational Culture.And Organisational Culture is primarily a reflection of The Organisation's Leadership!

  • Hmmmmm on 31/01/2013 8:10:13 AM

    Well said Robert.

  • Ian McCarthy on 31/01/2013 10:41:54 AM

    No surprises here. Productivity increases have squeezed the lemon dry and now organisations are forced to resort to flogging employees to death. When are we going to realise that eventually the Piper must be paid? Already the costs are skyrocketing. Smarter management is required not heaping blame on the victims.

  • Jeremy Clements on 31/01/2013 11:37:32 AM

    It remains extremely disappointing that people are unable to go to work and not be bullied, harassed, humiliated etc. The subject matter has sickended me for some time, the challenge shouldn't be protecting yourself or dealing with someone elses poor behaviour but rather getting as much out of your work as you can.

    I appreciate when soemone brings a problem like this to my department as they can be rest assured the it is thoroughly investigated. If it is found that a person has been for example bullied then they are dealt with, and a strong message sent to the individual concerned and the company at large. The person that was affected can now sleep easy and go about their lives.

    Three things:
    - Are the HR people charged with the responsibility really dealing with the situation or are they giving the impression that they are actually going to get to the bottom of it and deal with those at fault.
    - Does HR see it as an opportunity to address a problem person(s) or an issue that needs to be swepped under the carpet to protect the brand
    - Are the HR people capabale and assertive enough to properly address the bullies themselves whose nature may be imtimidating. I appreciate what you are saying Ross but be careful that HR people who are not capable of addressing these situations don't deflect their responsibility to help those in need under the guise of people needing to look after these things themselves/to take some more responsibility, because many can't.

    Appreciate the opportunity to respond.

  • Steve Champion on 31/01/2013 1:26:31 PM

    We actively watch what content visitors to our website have been searching for (Googling). The highest search terms are presently around 'how to prevent stress claims', and 'how to lodge stress claims'. From our work with our clients, we see many disputes with employees result in stress claims via workers comp, rather than the true cause of the dispute or grievance being dealt with. We regularly see 'fault' on both sides but surely the wc system is not the right way to resolve them. The cost of these claims on the economy is immense. A better alternative would be to provide compulsory mediation of 'stress' claims and bullying allegations that result in wc claims.

  • Penny on 31/01/2013 5:37:37 PM

    I agree with your comments Jeremy. I work in a large Rail organisation and HR is instructed to support the managers and leaders not the employees. In fact in a recent investigation of bullying, the HR Advisor told the employee who went to tell her of her(victim) health, that her welfare was not her(HR Advisor) concern, only the managers was. In saying this there are employee advocates such as the counsellors and rehabilitation team within HR.
    There has been no serious examination of any manager in this company that I know of, except in one instance where the employee recorded the manager abusing him. The employee was branded a trouble maker and the manager received sympathy.
    Whilst in this organisation I have been sexually harassed and abused verbally in front of colleagues (that manager was 'let go'). I wouldn't dare say or do anything here, career suicide.

  • Richard Coleman on 1/02/2013 12:49:28 PM

    Disclosure: I'm a health and safety professional who works in a large corporate.

    A couple of points:

    1. genuine bullying and harassment is unacceptable
    2. Much claimed bullying is not bullying
    3. Depression is a complex disease and it is simply not correct to ascribe the cause of every case of depression that exists in a workplace to causes within workplaces
    4. The rate of depression in the employed workforce is lower than in those who are unemployed. We forget that work is a positive influence on people's lives.
    5. International comparisons are generally useless.

  • Claire on 1/02/2013 2:45:48 PM

    I too work in the public sector and whilst the ability to cry "bullying" when being managed for under performance is available - if the situation is managed appropriately and within legislative guidelines - the employer is protected.

    What does worry me is the ability of bullying environments to cover up systemic bullying as well as insurers who seeming to deliberately not support those genuine cases where mental illness is an issue or a pre-existing condition.

    Given the prevalence of mental health problems in the population in general, whilst the worforce may not cause depression it can exacerbate the condition. I advise my managers to document everything and ensure engagement not force and control.

  • Peter on 1/02/2013 5:00:40 PM

    Trying to look for the root-causes of bullying at work would be a lag indicator. We all would know that Bullying and Harassment are a social problem - that also come into work environment. If for example in Europe there is less of such problems at work, we have to study their family and schooling cultures and learn from. In the meantime they have other issues that we don't have and so on and so forth.

  • Martin J. Rollins on 5/02/2013 11:16:27 PM

    I believe Robert Re has hit the nail on the head - moreover, I believe we have a new dogma and church in the C-Suite, business analytics!

    I will as far as to say, we will see the rise of all forms of bullying, harassment, harm and damage grow across government aorganisations over the next ten years until some bright spark, finally pulls together the stats and correlates it to the myopic misuse of analytics by accountants.

    I believe the rise of accountants into leadership roles is having a cementing affect i.e. build, support and reinforce 'the status quo'.

    Accountant-Think is internal, process and cost focussed - Analytics provide immense data and discernible patterns - but a wrench (tool) it still a wrentch... it can be used to fix a problem or brought down on some poor unsuspecting sods head.

    Don't believe me - then look to government - find me a government government expanding its dashboard of gauges that help people.

    This tool is simply being abused - and we are all too blinkered to see the entire landscape.

    Bullying, harassment, harm and damage is simply, the trickle down affect of accountant-think and analytics abused!

  • Bernie Althofer on 7/02/2013 5:16:12 PM

    It seems to me that HR is being expected to more about the prevention, detection and resolution of workplace bullying.

    It also seems to me that both public and private sector organisations have developed some excellent policies and procedures based on Codes of Practice. It also seems that in some cases, the implementation process has not made any significant inroads regarding the workplace culture where bullying is tolerated to the point of acceptance.

    It seems that in addition to providing a sound policy, it is imperative that everyone with day to day responsibility should be attending regular interactive training where they have the opportunity to test their knowledge and understanding by asking questions, by undertaking role plays and completing assessments.

    It is interesting to note that in come cases, individuals who have been targeted do not seek advice from internal sources. Based on advice provided to me, in some cases they hold a belief that they will be further targeted and perhaps even lose their job for reporting incidents.

    Questions that start with who, when, where, how, and what might often be asked in an investigation. However, questions starting with "Why" might be left off the list. If policies and procedures do exist, and bullying continues to occur, and individuals are not reporting the incidents, it might be helpful to ask "Why?"

    It also seems that in some cases, the hazard or risk factors identified in the Draft Code of Practice for the Prevention of Workplace Bullying are not addressed when conducting a risk assessment, and if identified, appropriate controls are not introduced.

  • Redundant on 25/11/2013 7:05:26 PM

    All workers Go Postal

  • Bernie Althofer on 26/11/2013 9:43:12 AM

    For those unfamiliar with the term 'go postal' or 'going postal', it refers to situations where targets have resorted to the use of firearms in the workplace. There have a number of situations overseas where this has occurred and in most cases, the primary source of the bullying behaviours has been the last person killed - i.e. co-workers have been killed simply because the represent the organisation that failed to do anything.

    Going postal is not a course of action that I would support or recommend, even though I do understand that for some people, these actions draw attention to the lack of action on the part of the organisation.

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