'Organisations, not individuals, are root of workplace bullying,' new research shows

What tools could HR use to ensure healthy and productive workplace?

'Organisations, not individuals, are root of workplace bullying,' new research shows

Workplace bullying has become rampant among several Australian businesses, weakening the performance of employees and organisations alike.

A new study showed that organisational structures, not individuals, are primarily responsible for workplace bullying, affecting 10% of employees.

Learn about the current research that HR could use as tools to mitigate workplace bullying risks and ensure a healthy and productive workplace.

Leading cause of workplace bullying

The study, conducted by the University of South Australia (UniSA), explored 342 bullying statements put forward to the workplace health and safety regulator SafeWork SA, with 60% of the complaints coming from female employees, the National Safety Council of Australia (NSCA) Foundation reported.

The study found that “the highest number of complaints were from health and community services, property and business, and the retail sector.”

More importantly, it revealed that “poor management practices” were the root causes of workplace bullying, negatively affecting several employees.

“Researchers from UniSA have developed an evidence-based screening tool that identifies nine major risk areas for workplace bullying embedded in day-to-day practices, putting the onus on organisations to address the problem,” the foundation said. “The complaints revealed the risk areas for bullying in organisations.”

Ways to confront workplace bullying

According to NSCA, Professor Michelle Tuckey from UniSA noted that workplace bullying primarily occurs in how people are managed or controlled.

Tuckey further said that management of work performance, organizing working hours and entitlements, and forming workplace relationships are primary areas of concern that organisations need to focus on.

“It can be tempting to see bullying as a behavioural problem between individuals, but the evidence suggests that bullying actually reflects structural risks in the organisations themselves,” Tuckey said, based on the foundation.

Additionally, in a paper published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Tuckey and colleagues proposed several ways to tackle workplace bullying.

According to NSCA, the researchers examined significant key organisational risks and established them into a screening tool validated in a hospital setting.

“The tool predicts both individual-level and team-level workplace bullying risks that jeopardise the psychological health of employees,” Tuckey said.

The researchers noted that one common ground among organisations is that their existing strategies related to bullying, such as their policies, training, incident reporting, and investigating complaints, only focus on the individual and mostly overlook the totality of workplace structures.

“It [workplace bullying] leads to mental health problems, post-traumatic stress symptoms, emotional exhaustion, poor job satisfaction, high staff turnover, low productivity, sleep problems and even suicide risks,” Tuckey said.

“To prevent bullying, organisations must proactively assess and mitigate the underlying risk factors, like other systematic risk management processes,” she added.

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