Workplace bullying can sometimes be difficult to identify. After all, people from many different walks of life are thrown together in a working environment, and this will often result in personality clashes and natural disagreements. Not everybody in the office will be friends with each other.
So how can you tell when something has strayed into the area of workplace bullying? And how do you know when to deal with it formally?
What is workplace bullying?
The simple definition of bullying in the workplace is ‘repeated and unreasonable behaviour’ directed towards an individual or a group of workers that is ultimately posing a risk to their health and/or safety.
This may mean pranks or ‘hazing’, which threaten the physical health and/or safety of an individual can constitute bullying. Other types of bullying include psychological harm caused by aggressive behaviour, abusive comments, unjustified criticism, or subtler behaviours, such as excluding and isolating colleagues from activities in the workplace.
In 2017, Safe Work Australia published statistics which showed that 39% of all mental disorder claims arising from the workplace, involved harassment or bullying. However not everything which is unpleasant or creates conflict in the workplace constitutes bullying.
Management staff are entitled to engage in ‘reasonable management action’, intended to deal with workplace issues. Similarly, disagreements between co-workers which are appropriately managed or resolved need not constitute workplace bullying.
On the other side of the coin, conduct which involves the victimisation of a person in a way that constitutes discrimination, is a separate category of workplace offence. Although clearly very serious, allegations of discrimination should not be conflated with the concept of workplace bullying.
When should bullying be reported?
It is clear that the effects of workplace bullying can be far reaching. Bullying not only affects the mental and physical health of the employees directly involved, but can impose additional stressors on all staff and create disharmony in the workplace.
A good litmus test for determining whether behaviours should be reported or formally dealt with as workplace bullying, is if the behaviours occur repeatedly. If the behaviour is repeated this suggests a wilful or reckless disregard for the needs of the bullied colleague and demonstrates a clear pattern of poor and inappropriate behaviour.
In any event, reporting matters which make the workplace a less pleasant environment, is always a prudent course of action.
How to report workplace bullying
There are many different ways to report bullying in the workplace. Perhaps the simplest way is by reporting it directly to a supervisor, who then has a duty to pass the information further up the line.
Of course, this can be problematic if the allegations of bullying involve the supervisor in question or someone even further up the hierarchy of an organisation. Alternatively, a report may be made to a Health and Safety Officer, or directly to the Human Resources team. As a last resort an individual could report the conduct to the Fair Work Commission, or the appropriate state agency such as SafeWork NSW, Victoria, SA etc.
Depending on the nature and seriousness of the allegations, it may be appropriate to make the report in writing.
There may well be circumstances, however, where it is preferable to make an anonymous report or otherwise not become too involved in the formal process. In these circumstances, a whistleblowing action may be the more appropriate way to make a disclosure.
One of the key advantages of whistleblowing is that the bullying behaviours can be reported to a greater selection of people, including senior managers, officers of the company or any other person authorised to receive ‘protected disclosures’. This can lessen any discomfort about reporting direct supervisors. The process is also confidential, and reporting can occur anonymously, which is likely to assist in the event of concerns about potential reprisals.
If there are concerns about bullying in your workplace, there are simple and active measures that can be taken to address any concerns reported. WISE Workplace is an expert within the field of workplace bullying and offers organisations both investigation and whistleblowing services.