Casual employees “put up and shut up” about workplace bullying: Study

by HRD04 Sep 2017

Casual workers “put up and shut up” about workplace bullying because they are afraid of losing their jobs, according to a pilot study into bullying in the Australian hospitality industry.

Indeed, employees with insecure, casual employment were under increased pressure to tolerate bullying because they needed the work, according to Professor Michael Quinlan from the UNSW Business School.

Moreover, Dr Lindsay McMillan, lead researcher of Reventure, said that workplace bullying is a major concern, with one in ten workers having experienced verbal abuse or bullying in 2016.

“Bullying has a devastating effect on the mental health of victims especially if their claims are being dismissed by senior management,” said Dr McMillan.

“However, this new study has found that many casual employees are not even getting to the point of telling their managers.”

Dr McMillan added it is the responsibility of business leaders to create healthy workplace cultures and to not treat casual workers as ‘second-class citizens’.

“Business leaders need to build workplace cultures that encourage everyone to speak out against bullying, otherwise they will end up with systemic turnover issues and seemingly no reason for it,” he said.

“The casualisation of the workforce means more people have less job security, and that makes people afraid of making mistakes or ‘stepping out of line’, because they feel expendable.

“Regardless of what contract an employee has with an organisation, they need to be afforded an opportunity to have a meaningful and purposeful experience at work.”

According to Reventure’s latest research report, Renewing Australian Workplaces, casualisation of work is one of seven overarching trends affecting the Australian work landscape.

The Productivity Commission estimated in 2012 that the cost of workplace bullying to the economy as being between $6 billion and $36 billion annually.

HRD recently reported that half of Australian workers have experienced one or more serious incidences of conflict or negative impacts at work including verbal abuse or bullying.

This result was similar in the US where an in-depth study of 3,066 US workers by the Rand Corp., Harvard Medical School and the University of California found one in five workers say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work, involving sexual harassment or bullying.

Related stories:

‘She called me a b****’: Manager denies making hurtful remarks

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‘Offensive and vulgar’ Facebook post not valid reason for termination


  • by Bernie Althofer 5/09/2017 7:15:37 AM

    I suspect that the full extent of workplace bullying is not really known because marginalised and vulnerable workers will not report the behaviours for the reasons outlined in the article. I also suspect that these reasons also apply across the workforce in general as individuals value job security, have mortgages to pay, families to support and has been said to me on a number of times, 'a bad job is better than no job'.

    Whilst there have been significant changes in the past few years, reporting bullying continues to be an issue for those targets who reasonably believe that their complaint will not be treated seriously, that they will be victimised/threatened or intimidated for reporting the behaviours because the person is 'connected', or that the behaviour appears as an isolated incident and therefore does not meet the requirements necessary to show a pattern of behaviour.

    In some cases, both casual and full time employees will have read the policy and procedure, completed the self paced training package and yet they are not able to make the connection between behaviours that are occurring on a daily basis, and bullying behaviours. For example, a recent conversation with a worker indicated that 'no bullying happens around here' and yet they went on to describe a range of behaviours that if challenged could very well fit the meaning of a 'pattern of behaviours'.

    Targets who already perceive that they will be unfairly treated for various reasons may well not report any behaviours or actions that they perceive will have an impact on their employability. Keeping silent may well be decision that they have to make. However, keeping silent only means that bullying behaviours are not only tolerated but are accepted.

  • by interMEDIATE Dispute Management 5/09/2017 3:20:16 PM

    This problem is far more widespread than many realise. Even the public service is casualising its workforce, we surmise so that they are not subject to unfair dismissal laws when they want to get rid of staff.

    We personally know of one who did speak out about constant bullying by his manager and instead of having his complaint dealt with locally, found himself as the target of an unwarranted investigation. His emails were all seized and frivolous claims made against him. He lost his job.
    Fortunately, his formal grievance was sustained. He is now looking for alternative work, whilst the insurance company pays his wages.
    Shocking waste of a highly talented employee who simply wanted to be respected, and waste of public funds.

    The bullies in his case were not dealt with by their employer and they can continue their disrespectful treatment of others in the workforce.

  • by Bernie Althofer 7/09/2017 7:18:04 AM

    People who value their employment may often find themselves in the situation where they can't say anything because the alleged bully is connected. Even if the behaviours are borderline i.e. somewhere between a breach of the Code of Conduct for not treating someone with respect, and bullying i.e. repeated behaviours, it becomes difficult to prove because invariably the alleged bully choses their target and the location in which to conduct the behaviour e.g. no witnesses.

    Bullying behaviours can and do occur at any and at all levels of an organisation and the responses of targets may vary accordingly. As some recent decisions indicate, some action is being taken through the Fair Work Commission and in other cases, target engage high profile legal teams.

    When an individual is targeted, they have to make decisions based on a range of choices or options. In many cases, there will be the physical, psychological and financial costs to consider, and these costs may influence the decision made.

    In some cases, 'everyone' knows who the alleged bully is and 'everyone' knows that reporting the person or the behaviours to management is not going to result in remedial or corrective action being taken against the alleged bully, particularly when the alleged bully as created an illusion that they are indispensable and they are actually saving the organisation money. As individuals do become more aware that they can take action (even at some personal costs), they maintain diarised records of every questionable incident, including time/date/location/witnesses/bystanders/conversation e.g. who said what and what was said in response. Eventually when the target does go off on long term sick leave and lodge a WorkCover Claim and investigation is conducted, the diarised notes are produced. In addition the target may have also used internal processes to report breaches of health and safety, so not only is there a documented trial of behaviours that shows a pattern of behaviour, but there is also documentation showing when and to whom the incidents were reported and their actions taken (or not taken).

    By their very actions and behaviours, it is the alleged bullies who create problems not only for targets, but also for organisations. It also appears that management practices and communication can lead to increased levels of workplace conflict. Much and all as organisations appear to have policies and procedures in place for the prevention, detection, reporting and resolution of workplace bullying, it seems that in some cases, the following can be said about targets:

    "They don't go to work to be kept in the dark, to be driven to breaking point, to be subjected to ridicule and derision about their work capabilities, to be ignored, to be devalued or treated differently because of who they are, they don't expect to be labelled as whingers, malcontents or bludgers when they lodge a WorkCover claim, and certainly don't expect to be victimised, threatened or harassed because they have lodged a claim". (Althofer:2014) (talking about targets)

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