Best practice for workplace bullying remains HR dilemma

by 12 Jun 2012

New statistics have revealed that some three quarters of employees will be bullied during their working life – yet despite the growing incidence of workplace harassment, employers aren’t getting any better at managing the issue, a recruitment expert has warned.

Workplace bullying ranges from intimidation and verbal abuse to discrimination and even physical harassment, and according to a new nation-wide poll by recruitment firm Employment Office, over half of all employees don’t believe their workplace is effective in managing incidents of bullying. It was also found that the most common forms of workplace bullying involve undue criticism of work, personal attacks, social isolation, verbal threats and spreading rumours. “Workplace bullying can really happen in any organisation, however it thrives in companies with a dysfunctional culture, where employees feel obligated to follow the leader or stick with the majority, rather than standing up for the safety and wellbeing of a bullying target,” Tudor Marsden-Huggins from Employment Office said.

The high legal costs of bullying suits arising from negligent management are well documented, but more insidious costs arise from disgruntled employees trashing the company’s culture online. “In these days of social media and personal broadcasting, if a company develops a reputation for having a dysfunctional corporate culture, it can stay with them for years.  This makes the recruitment of quality candidates will be much more difficult, time-consuming and expensive,” Marsden-Huggins said.

The Productivity Commission has estimated workplace bullying costs the Australian economy up to $15bn a year, and that figure doesn’t include the hidden costs of recruiting and training employees to replace those who left as a result of continued harassment. Workplace harassment claims are typically much more costly than physical injury claims, with employees generally requiring more time off, and the impact to the business felt through lost productivity and damaged employee morale. “It’s unfortunate that psychological hazards aren’t given the same attention as physical dangers in the workplace. It’s time for employers to protect the emotional and mental wellbeing of their staff, not only for the employee’s sake, but also for the business,” Marsden-Huggins said.

In order to prevent bullying from affecting your workplace, employers must be more active at managing and monitoring their procedures, and ensure that victims of bullying can bring their complaints forward without fear of recrimination. It’s paramount that an employee has a clear way to bring complaints forward to be treated in a fair and unbiased manner, and by the same token, it’s crucial to treat the alleged bully with respect and use collaborative approaches instead of adversarial approaches to resolve differences.


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  • by Jackie Knight 12/06/2012 3:11:09 PM

    I firmly believe that the reason that workplace bullying continues to be a problem is that we are not applying a two pronged approach. The first approach is to have the appropriate mechanisms in place for the victim to report the situation. While not perfect the appropriate HR policies and legislation is addressing this prong. The second prong is to provide the person doing the bullying with the appropriate training such that they do not resort to bullying. If the bully is moved or sacked it just transfers the problem to someone else. Bullies need leadership, communication, diversity, emotional intelligence training and coaching so that they can learn to influence others without resorting to bullying tactics.

  • by Bernie Althofer 12/06/2012 4:17:24 PM

    In some cases, it appears that no approach is being taken.

    That said, there was an interesting presentation regarding toxic leadership: psychopaths and psychopathic behaviours in the workplace. Some of the issues raised may have seemed controversial to some people. However, it does appear these issues are on the rise, along with narcissistic behaviours across society in general. A book about the Narcissicism Epidemic suggests that bullies 'need to learn respect for others. They already have tood much respect for themselves".

    The presentation last week also identified the need to change the way some systems and processs such as performance management need to focus less on outcomes and more on alignment with values, etc. It was also suggested that emotional intelligence with ethics training suits the psychopath and the bullies, as they will use a well intentioned process for ulterior motives and destructive forces.

  • by Estelle 13/06/2012 9:54:01 AM

    I have two sons who are doing apprenticeships in different industries. One is treated well and is happy in his work environment. The other is bullied and constantly harassed for trying to "follow the rules and processes" when it comes to OHS and work. He has been warned by union delegates not to go to the boss or else. He has to wait for trades people to supervise him to do jobs and the tradespeople either don't want the responsability or couldn't be bothered. Unfortunately the attitude at his workplace is one of lazyness and jobs are passed on and on so he is not receiving the training he is required to have. He was being harassed for finishing jobs in less than the time the tradespeople would do them because it made them look bad, now they are turning around and say because he can finish a job is less than what they would do it he must be doing a bad job. I have heard stories from other parents and their apprentice/trainee children some of the same things happen where they have done or are doing their traineeships and all of them have said the same thing they are afraid to speak to either their bossess or the apprenceship board because they are afraid to loose their apprenticeships/jobs and they are only apprenctices, who would believe them.

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