What is Workplace Bullying

Harriet Witchell - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Workplace bullying has been identified as a serious problem in a large number of Australian organisations. According to a recent report produced by government organisation Safe Work Australia, workplace bullying affects between 3.5% and 21% of the Australian workforce and costs businesses and organisations around $6 billion a year.

Although “bullying” is a commonly used term, it is often misunderstood when used in the context of the workplace. Here is a brief overview of workplace bullying, what it means and the impact it can have on individuals and organisations in Australia.

What behaviour is classified as bullying?

Workplace bullying is broadly defined as repeated behaviour towards an employee or a group of employees which is unreasonable and creates a risk to their health and safety. Although the traditional view of workplace bullying is that of a manager harassing a subordinate, bullying can take place between co-workers of equal seniority or can be undertaken from a lower ranking employee towards a more senior employee.

Workplace bullying doesn’t include reasonable management direction and disciplinary action which is in line with reasonable company policies. Other types of workplace harassment including discrimination, sexual harassment and workplace conflict are not usually included in the definition of workplace bullying and can be dealt with separately or alongside bullying allegations.

What are the consequences of workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying can have severe consequences both for the individual/s involved and for the organisation as a whole. Some of the consequences for victims of work place bullying include: • Stress • Mental health issues including anxiety or depression • Loss of motivation • Effects on other areas of life including relationships, family and study • Physical health problems including headaches and back and neck problems • Sleeplessness • Loss of confidence • Isolation

As well as directly affecting the victim, workplace bullying also has consequences for organisations including: • Increased absenteeism • Reduced productivity • Higher staff turnover • Increased recruitment and training costs • Low staff morale It’s in everyone’s best interests for employers to take a proactive approach to preventing workplace bullying. As well as developing anti-bullying policies and staff training, make sure that as an employer you respond quickly to any allegations of bullying among your employees.

In recognition of the widespread issues caused by workplace bullying, the Fair Work Commission has recently brought new legislation into effect which makes workplace bullying unlawful. From January 1, 2014, workers who feel they are being bullied can lodge a complaint directly with the Fair Work Commission who can make whatever order it feels necessary to provide redress.

Matters concerning workplace bullying allegations can often be dealt with internally but if the allegations are severe or involve senior management it may be necessary to involve an external investigator. Our workplace investigators are highly experienced in cases of alleged workplace bullying and can help ensure a fair outcome and a quick resolution. Contact us today to find out more about what we can do to help you.

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