Workplaces rife with bullying

by 02 Apr 2009

Despite the risk of hefty fines and damage to corporate reputation, many employers still seem blasé about the issues of workplace discrimination and bullying.

Australian workplaces are rife with bully ing, with almost one in three (30 per cent) employees claiming they have been bul lied at work and one in four (24 per cent) that they have been discriminated against.

The findings are the result of a national survey of more than 2000 employees con ducted by online learning and information management provider WorkPro. According to its Workplace Pulse Quarterly Survey, bullying remains a feature of the workplace, with 27 per cent of respondents stating that bullying or discrimination has happened to them with in the past two years.

Almost half (46 per cent) of respondents said they had seen their colleagues bullied or discriminated against within the past two years. Even more alarmingly, 31 per cent of the group had witnessed such behaviour mul tiple times.

According to WorkPro business manager Tania Evans, the problem is far more preva lent than many employers realise. “Organisations need to realise that bullying and unfair treatment of staff is occurring and could be impacting on their own workplace culture or, worse still, exposing them to the risk of liability, possible fines and even brand damage.

“Managing the risks is about empowering your people to fully understand their rights and responsibilities at work, and to feel like they can speak up on inappropriate behaviour with out experiencing recrimination as a result.”

The research also found that Australian employees are very aware of workplace sen sitivities. Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of respondents said they worry about offend ing colleagues in a discriminatory way, such as on the basis of gender, disability or other distinctive attributes.

Unfortunately, despite this strong level of awareness, 27 per cent expressed uncertainty regarding when their own rights are being vio lated and 31 per cent are under the wrong impression when it comes to who is legally responsible to provide this information, indi cating a need for further education.

Evans says it is surprising that, given the business risks, employers are still not ticking all the boxes on equal employment opportuni ty (EEO) and occupational health and safety (OH&S) education. “The results show that Australian employees have a thirst for knowl edge about their workplace rights and obliga tions,” Evans maintains.

More specifically, employees indicated they would most value information on: what to do if bullied or discriminated against (16 per cent); their workplace rights (14 per cent); unacceptable versus acceptable workplace behaviour (12 per cent); and who to report an incident to (11 per cent). Some 46 per cent want information on all these matters before commencing a new role.

“What many employers fail to realise is that they do not have to be directly involved in, or even aware of, an incident for them to be liable,” Evans says. “They can be prosecuted for an incident that happens between other staff members, as well as for not providing employees with adequate OH&S and EEO information and training, yet the latter is an area often left alone in terms of induction.”