Bullying occurring in one in three Australian workplaces

- October 21, 2019 3 MIN READ
  • 32 per cent of Australians have seen managers bully employees
  • The ACT is the worst state for bullying behaviour
  • Bullying can include comments or behaviours that are hurtful or make a person feel undervalued.

Workplace safety organisation SAI global has released the finding of its latest report to reveal workplace bullying is rife in Australia. SAI discovered bullying is occurring at thirty per cent of organisations.

Alarmingly it is both managers and peers that are behaving badly, with 32 per cent of respondents saying they had seen managers bully workers and 29 per cent confirming they have witnessed the behaviour in peers, 6 per cent have even seen it come from external service providers, and 5 per cent said contractors have displayed bullying behaviour.

When it comes to location, those who work in the ACT are more likely to be bullied than their interstate counterparts with 40 per cent of ACT respondents saying bullying was common compared with 32 per cent in Victoria, 29 per cent of NSW respondents, and 28 per cent of Queensland and South Australian respondents.

Rod Beath, workplace safety spokesperson at SAI Global, says bullying and harassment encompass much more than behaviour that is outwardly aggressive, sexually explicit or humiliating towards others.

“The behaviour can manifest in physical, verbal, social or psychological forms, and this is why it is so difficult to identify. It can even include comments or behaviours that are hurtful or make a person feel undervalued. Very shrewd managers or co-workers can deliberately intimidate employees to make them feel less important or undervalued, or make their jobs extremely difficult by, for instance, giving them impossible tasks or workloads.

“While awareness around these issues is growing – especially with recent studies that have identified poor mental health as a major concern in Australian workplaces[2] – there is still a need for better education and awareness among organisations,” he continues.

SAI Global’s seven tips to eliminate bullying and harassment from the workplaces:

  1. Train managers to identify and call out bullying behaviours early. Some people might not even be aware that their behaviour is affecting the broader workplace culture. In these circumstances, it is useful to have a conversation with employees about their behaviour and its impact on colleagues. While this might seem like a sensitive and difficult conversation, it will promote awareness and teach individuals to recognise bullying tendencies and act on them early.

2. Follow your company’s policy and processes when standards of expected behaviours are not met. Every company should develop and implement a clear and succinct workplace bullying policy to help address any bullying that occurs. This policy should clearly define the standards of behaviour that are expected, and your responsibilities as an employer about how bullying will be dealt with. Whether this is a code of conduct or workplace bullying policy, it is important that these standards are continually reviewed and updated.

3. Have regular consultations with your employees. Every employer should try to be trustworthy and approachable, while providing respectful performance feedback to their employees. By regularly consulting with employees, it will also help them to better identify and assess if bullying is occurring in their workplace. Holding open dialogues with employees can also draw attention to potential factors that are likely to increase the risk of workplace bullying.

4. Design systems that allow employees to carry out their work safely. By clearly defining jobs and incorporating workplace bullying into risk management approaches, it will help ensure that your workers are carrying out their work safely. These systems should also ensure that management (particularly lower levels of management) are adequately trained and supported to address workplace bullying. For instance, providing them with resources, information and training, will help them to feel empowered to address the issues at hand.

5. Manage workplace stressors. Role conflict and uncertainty may cause bullying behaviours due to the stress it places on employees. Ensure employees understand their roles and have the skills to do their job to minimise work circumstances that could lead to bullying. This will also help to minimise the risk of employees’ perceiving different opinions or management actions as bullying.

6. Promote productive, respectful working relationships through good management practices. As your leadership sets the tone for how employees are expected to treat each other, it is important to identify and model the behaviours that you need in your team. By treating everyone with dignity and respect, it will help to create a cohesive workplace culture where bullying is not tolerated.

7. Prioritise the psychological health of your employees. It is important to promote a positive and psychologically healthy workplace, beyond merely the absence of bullying. Encouraging staff to work on tasks together, matching employee skills and strengths with tasks, and providing employees with sufficient information to perform tasks competently are just a few ways to help them balance mental workplace demands. Offering your employees flexible working arrangements also enables them to take care of their psychological health in the workplace.


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