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Workplace Bullying, Is It an Epidemic in Australia?

Did you know...Aussie Workplace bullying ranks 6th worst in the world!?

Firstly, what is the definition of ‘bullying’ in the context of a workplace?

Bullying is more than harassment. It is offensive behaviour that occurs repeatedly over a period of time, and the person confronted has to experience difficulties defending him or herself (Lindstrom, Hottinen & Bredenberg, 2000).

Bullying is a problem because it causes serious harm to worker health and organisation’s functionality (Bond, Tuckey & Dollard, 2010). Nielsen and Einarsen’s (2012) meta-analysis found a significant cross-sectional relationship between workplace bullying and a range of psychological health and well-being outcomes including anxiety, depression and burnout. The analysis also showed that bullying is associated with increased absenteeism and higher levels of job dis-satisfaction.

Furthermore, bullying can create a major headache for employers. There is a growing fear that bullying might be a ‘ticking time-bomb’ in terms of workers’ compensation. The cost of workplace bullying is estimated to be $36 billion annually in Australia (Productivity Commission, 2010).

Significantly, one in ten Australians experience bullying at work – a rate which is higher than 34 European countries (Safe Work Australia’s Report 2015). 32.6% of those bullied reported that the bullying occurred at least once a week while another 12.3% reported that it happened daily. The most common form of bullying was being sworn or yelled at 37.2%. Humiliation in front of others is 23.2% and being assaulted by clients or patient was a close third at 21.8%.

Given the high prevalence and seriousness of bullying within Australia, there are three recommendations to resolve this issue.

  1. When dealing with bullying, it should be a proactive process. A positive work culture can act as a strong preventative approach. Organizations should reward and recognise people who demonstrate sincerity towards their fellow colleagues. This will encourage people to assist others to succeed.

  2. 62.3% of bullied workers claim their supervisor was the primary perpetrator; it is logical to target supervisors for training regarding proper management behaviour. If everyone demonstrates pro-social behavior from the top down and values employee health, then you are on your way to reducing workplace bullying.

  3. Acting early matters: Take steps to address the issue as soon as you encounter it, do not dilly-dally; at times you’ll be able to nip brewing issues in the bud. Be responsive and quick to investigate complaints. Avoid the tendencies of some managers where they tend to dismiss complaints they perceive as coming from ‘overly sensitive’ people. Judging before understanding the whole picture is a big No-No.

Take Home Message:

Backed by research, once there is commitment to psychological health and safety of employees by senior management, then the prevalence of bullying will decrease.


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