Workplace bullying persists as a ‘real problem’

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According to the results of new survey research, bullying continues to plague both public and private sector workplaces, and the level of under-reporting by victims may be much worse than previously thought.

The research was conducted by the ACT Greens during March and May of this year, and identified the following key statistics:
 

  • Close to half of all bullying incidents were not reported
     
  • 75% of the respondents said they had experienced workplace bullying and 63% of these incidents occurred in the last 12 months
     
  • 85% of those who did report bullying incidents said they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the response from their employer
     
  • 79% of respondents said they had witnessed bullying in the workplace
     
  • The majority said WorkSafe should employ specialist bullying inspectors

There is a need for employers to provide greater victim support and prevention strategies, and legislation should also be introduced to address workplace bullying, a Greens spokesperson said.

“The survey results not only show that bullying remains a real problem in [workplaces], but that bullying incidents commonly go unreported. People who do report bullying incidents are frequently dissatisfied with the response they receive,” Industrial Relations spokesperson, Amanda Bresnan commented. “The feedback and comments from the survey shows that we need greater support for victims and more proactive prevention strategies to help bring positive changes to workplace cultures. Bullying is an issue that is seriously affecting people’s health and wellbeing, and costing billions of dollars a year in lost productivity,” Bresnan added.

 

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The fine line of bullying: What HR needs to know

  • Bernie Althofer on 22/05/2012 8:36:23 AM

    There is some data that suggests that workplace bullying costs between $1600 and $4900 per person per year, subject to methodologies used. The full extent of the damage being caused across public and private sector organisations and the community in general, might not be fully known or understood given that in a number of cases, the incident might not be officially reported.

    In some cases, those being targeted seek advice from outside sources. In other cases individuals rely on organisational policies and procedures where the resolutions options are expressed as:
    do nothing
    handle the matter yourself (but only if safe to do so)
    Speak to a line manager/supervisor
    Speak to HR
    Speak to a support person, Union representative or work health and safety personnel
    Seek legal advice
    Seek advice from an external agency e.g. Anti-Discrimination Commission, Workplace Ombudsman

    In my experience, a large number opt to do nothing as they realise what is involved.

    However, when it comes to reporting bullying and/or harassment, there are some difficulties in this when there is disparity in defining both terms. In some cases the terms are used interchangeably when there are differences.

    People may think it won't happen to them so are surprised when they are caught up in an allegation. In the past, it has been suggested that one in five will be targeted, one in five will be accused of bullying, and that leaves 3 in five as bystanders or witnesses.

    The issue seems to be in getting a real understanding of the magnitude of the issue, presenting the findings in a such a way that decision makers realise the physical, psychological, financial and society costs involved, and then writing policies and procedures in such a way that those being targeted can safely report the behaviours without fear of retribution, job loss, etc.

    It is also important to understand that determining the actual costs can be difficult to assess when in some cases, there may be a significant gap between the first bullying behaviour and when the matter is first officially reported or actioned e.g. lodgement of a WorkCover claim. In some cases, the costs will continue to accrue long after the WorkCover claim is finalised.

    Measuring the frequency, severity and action taken may give a better understanding, particularly if the entire incident can be mapped from start to finish (which may be sometime in the future e.g. I am aware of one case that continues after five years).

    It is important that organisations do read report such as the one identified in this article and assess the relevance to their organisation.

  • Bernie Althofer on 24/05/2012 10:53:47 AM

    Stories about the extent and level of workplace bullying vary depending on the salaciousness of the behaviours involved. However, whilst it might appear that these are few and far between mainly due to confidentiality issues involved, organisations should consider the impact and response of such allegations.

    Changing reporting requirements in relation to bullying may result in a different approach being taken. For example, if workplace bullying is a work health and safety issue, and all incidents were notifiable in terms of the legislation, this might also create heightened awareness. However, given that there could be lengthy and time consuming procedures in place, some targets may b reluctant to report the incident.

    A number of organisations have Codes of Conduct that require workers to treat each other with respect and dignity. In the case of public sector employees, attention to the overall impact of workplace bullying might change if incidents were reported as official misconduct, misconduct or breaches of discipline. Again, these could involve lengthy investigative processes and targets may feel even more exposed.

    It also appears that some decisions that have been made, where bullying was a secondary complaint, with the initial complaint being about work allocation.

    It pays to ensure that managers and supervisors know when and how to investigate any form of workplace conflict or issue. It is also important to understand that some organisations may be exposed to considerable costs, simply because of the way the process has occurred, particularly from when the issue is first identified, to when it is brought to a conclusion.

  • contractor in the bullying situtation on 25/05/2012 9:26:06 AM

    This is my experiences worked in the public sector for 3 years and experiences bullying from my director, whom for the past 3 years treated contractor as a 'dog'. Can you believe that this person actually used 4 letter words - 'fxxx off' in front of me just to protect her pet from the unit manager to complete her tasks.
    This organisation have no policies in place to resolve bullying especially when it is high up in management, HR manager is her favour pet and no one speaks out in fear of losing their job.

    I left after complaints about it to CEO and he just spokes to her and that the end. This is no a real action to prevents her from doing this again. In a bit to asserts her authorities she puts enoromous pressure on me to perform / add on extra work. This organisation thinks they are above the law - discrimination or not. Since being reported and have no beind done, no one will reported to Workcover and the union is no help since I am a contractor and not a union memeber.
    Leaving this place helps me restore my confidence in my work.

  • Bernie Althofer on 25/05/2012 11:12:40 AM

    The behaviours experienced by 'contractor' are not unusual. There seems to be some form of expectation that it not only acceptable to treat not only employees but also contractors in a way that is unreasonable. It also seems that these people are expected to accept the behaviours being dished, keep their mouth shut and get on with the job. If they raise concerns or speak up about the behaviours, they end up having their employment terminated or contracts not extended.

    Bullying and harassment can start out in such a subtle way that even those around those directly involved might not be aware of what is happened. Some people are very adept at not getting involved. However, there does come a time when they are drawn in the issues. For example, one person can decide they don't want to work with another because of a number of reasons such as personal attributes, and to a lesser extent, workplace practices that do not fit within the workplace requirements. In some cases, the person initiating the choice not to work with the other individual can 'marshall' support by telling their side of the story so that others eventually 'gang' up and collectively they end up 'bullying' the other individual because of perceptions created about their competence and unlawful discrimination issues e.g personal attributes.

    Favouritism is the easier way out for some managers in that making hard decisions to performance manage the 'offending party' are harded to do, than it is to let someone go.

    Given the increased frequency in which situations such as the one outlined above are occurring, and the rate at which individuals are discussing these types of issues on a number of online forums, it is critically important that investigations are conducted without undue delay. Organisations may have a range of policies and procedures in place to govern various counterproductive behaviours e.g. bulllying, harassment and unlawful discrimination, along with Codes of Conduct, performance management processes and disciplinary processes. It is critical that each and every person in the workplace and those making decisions about the workplace have a very clear understanding of their obligations.

    When enough incidents are swept under the carpet, some-one trips over, and then the carpet is lifted to find out what caused the trip, and then the real problems start.

    Unfortunately, like 'contractor' above, some people do leave their workplace to get their confidence back. At the same time, there are those who see what is going, realise how they will be treated and end up suffering in silence. In the overall scheme of things and trying to create a better understanding of the extent of the problem, it is only going to get worse if there is no encouragement to report incidents, and there has to be some courage demonstrated by executives in dealing with complaints.

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