Federal bullying inquiry finds it’s a billion dollar problem

by Stephanie Zillman28 Nov 2012

Workplace bullying has profound effects on a person’s health as well as their work and family life, and comes at a significant cost to the community and the economy, the federal bullying inquiry has determined.

The productivity commission estimated the total cost of workplace bullying in Australia at between $6bn and $36bn annually, the House of Representatives has heard. In its long-awaited report released this week, Workplace Bullying: We just want it to stop, the Standing Committee on Education and Employment made 23 recommendations as to how Australian business should proceed.

The recommendations principally focus on:

  • defining what bullying is and is not;
  • promoting and strengthening existing legislative and regulatory frameworks;
  • ensuring that the requirements of the draft Code of Practice: Managing the Risk of Workplace Bullying are met, with guidance and support provided to employers;
  • improving workplace cultures;
  • and enhancing tools for the prevention and early resolution of workplace bullying incidences.

“Workplace bullying is happening far too frequently in Australian workplaces, and occurs in all sectors and industries. We discovered throughout the inquiry that prevention and early intervention is critical,” Committee Chair, Amanda Rishworth MP, said. A chief concern of witnesses was the lack of clarity about what to do and where to go for help, and for this reason it was recommended to the government that a new national advisory service be established to provide advice, assistance and resolution services to employers and workers alike.

While the proposals are likely to take some time to turn into legislative changes, it is clear that bullying and harassment continue to be complex issues that are no longer seen as a just a HR problem. Employment law experts at Clayton Utz said incidents of workplace bullying cannot be addressed or resolved in isolation. “Business must ensure that they have a clear and definitive approach to managing workplace bullying, centring their efforts and processes within their work health and safety management systems as well as their HR function. Bullying is a clear and present workplace hazard that must be managed as such,” the firm said.

Click here to access the full report.


  • by Dr Grant Robertson, UGM Consulting 28/11/2012 2:18:28 PM

    I'll leave the 'legal' response to others who focus on that area, but would like to highlight the value of helping everyone in the workplace understand how to be more inclusive. A key pillar of this approach is developing personal influence at work. If this is achieved, it is likely to address not only a fair few of the factors which give rise to bullying but also a range of other challenges that impact on both organisational health and performance more generally. UGM Consulting undertook a broad study on Influence at Work in Australian workplaces in October last year. The report is downloadable at http://www.ugmconsulting.com/newsletter%20archive.html.

  • by Stuart King 28/11/2012 2:41:35 PM

    Having had input into the process of review by this government I will watch with interest what actually results. Codes of practice and information will provide guidance I am sure. What this review has missed however is creating the opportunity of making things more visible, incentivising organisations (including government) to adopt best practice, rewarding as well as punishing. Perhaps offering tax incentives to private organisations to improve performance on this issue. Giving someone a 'smack' is too late (30 yeras in law enforcement taught me that) .... identifying behavioural risk early, developing a behaviour risk mitigation strategy and creating a highly engaged and respectful culture that encourages performance is the key. Government organisations should take the lead and invest to show what is possible but I suspect they will not. Our national research found the ACT was over represented in reports of bullying through the written word!
    Corporate Australia will drive this innovation, and many or our visionary clients are doing just that.

    My final assessment ? An expected response from a government lacking resolve and real understanding to be innovative in response to a national problem. A missed opportunity. www.risktobusiness.com

  • by Bernie Althofer 29/11/2012 11:50:56 AM

    The people who made contributions need to be congratulated on coming forward. The report is detailed but will take some for a comprehensive analysis to be conducted.
    Like many other reports, the devil will be in the detail e.g. implementation.
    It has been interesting to participate in various discussion groups over the past few years, and in that time a raft of strategies have been offered.
    It seems that a strong educative role focusing on prevention is required.

    It also seems that there is an abundance of laws across Australia that could be used to address various forms of bullying.

    It also seems that there is a lack of awareness or understanding as to how these laws can be applied.

    It appears that Australia is considered as the 'benchmark'when it comes to addressing workplace bullying, so it would be excellent to make sure that this is not a missed opportunity. I guess the question is "How will this Report work on the ground?"

    As Stuart has indicated, giving someone a smack does not necessarily work. Understanding and addressing the hazard/risk factors as a proactive measure could be more effective in the long term. Then again, I too like Stuart have a police background, and whether people like it or not, those who get the figures, get the rewards. It seems that rewards are built on the notion that the more effective approach is where there are 'figures' to support action.

    Sometimes, the most effective people are those actually prevent the offence in the first place. We need to change that culture and approach.

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