Diversity Works New Zealand says employers must do more to stamp out bullying of migrant workers

New research highlights scale of workplace bullying in NZ

Diversity Works New Zealand says employers must do more to stamp out bullying of migrant workers

A survey into bullying in the workplace has found more still needs to be done to improve the lived experience of all employees in New Zealand, especially among migrant workers.

The new data released by Diversity Works New Zealand found the number of workplaces with reported incidents of bullying has remained static over the past year. But the organisation warned the true scale of bullying is likely to be higher due to underreporting of the issue, especially among workforces with migrants from countries where English is not the first language.

Diversity Works NZ CEO Maretha Smit said organisations must be particularly attuned to the on-the-ground experience of migrants in their workforce to truly stamp out bullying tactics.

“The research implies that while there is increasing awareness, there is still work to do to create tolerance and safe spaces for all ethnicities,” she told HRD.

Of the 15% of respondents who said incidents of bullying and harassment in their industry had increased, more than half believed the rise was due to more awareness, less tolerance for it, and a greater speak-up culture. Positively, the data showed that over time the prevalence of workplace bullying has fallen. Compared to the same survey conducted five years ago, the number of workplaces with reported incidents dropped from 41% in 2016 to 35% in 2021.

Comparing the prevalence of types of bullying, 51% of respondents said the most common type was abusive or offensive comments, insults, sarcasm, or intimidation. More than a third said bullying and harassment included repeated criticism or comments intended to discredit a person or devalue their work (37%), while a similar amount said it included teasing or practical jokes (34%).

Read more: Fair Work upholds workplace bullying dismissal

Smit said this data highlights the variation and subtleties in what workplace bullying looks like, meaning incidents may go unreported and unresolved if organisations take a too limited view. The current Worksafe New Zealand guidance defines bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviour towards a worker or group of workers that could lead to physical or psychological harm.

“That sets the bar very high and we believe workplaces should be more intentional about identifying and addressing behaviours that fall outside that definition,” Smit said.

“We need to have open and honest conversations about the language we use in workplaces and how we classify what is acceptable and unacceptable.”

Massey University Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, who led the team responsible for analysing this year’s data, said the global pandemic has added a further layer of complexity in assessing the true picture of workplace bullying in NZ. The sharp drop-off in the number of migrants coming into the country means that while the number of reported incidents has dropped, it is harder to measure the cultural attitude towards the treatment of migrant workers while borders remain closed.

“Diversity, attraction and retention become even more important considerations for employers, especially in what will be a very different labour supply situation that will last some years,” he said.

Read more: Will workplace bullying rise as a result of COVID-19 vaccines?

Globally, the spread of COVID-19 has also caused a spike in discrimination and racist abuse directed towards those from China and other parts of Asia. Countless incidents of racism - both physical and verbal abuse - have been inflicted on those with Asian heritage in the last year. While the worrying prevalence has been reported widely in America, closer to home in Australia, research also found a rise in workplace discrimination.

Research by the Australian National University reported close to a 15% rise in workplace discrimination experienced by Asian Australian employees in October 2020, compared to the previous six months. It found that during that period, following the height of the pandemic, 66.4% of respondents suffered discrimination in the workplace, compared to 25.8% for the rest of the Australian population.

The data highlights that tackling discrimination will continue to be a key focus for employers, both now and as New Zealand, along with the rest of the world, begins to reopen.

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