Effectively managing bullying in the workplace

myosh - HSEQ Management Software

By Janine Nicholson and Sarah O'Leary
Tuesday, 14 March, 2017


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Bullying in the workplace is a widespread problem, and it is important for organisations to understand the risks and how they can be managed.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated ‘unreasonable behaviour’ directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

An employer’s failure to take steps to manage the risk of workplace bullying can result in a breach of Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws.

Under WHS laws workers must also take reasonable care that their behaviour does not adversely affect the health and safety of other people. Workers are required to cooperate with reasonable policies and procedures.

Figures released by overcomebullying.com suggest that as many as 70% of bullied employees leave their employers. noworkplacebullies.com indicates that 20% of those who witness bullying will also leave the organisation. Every time an employee leaves the workplace, there are replacement costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training new staff. In addition, workplace bullying leads to a decline in morale, further increasing the high turnover rates of employees.

There is a difference between bullying and reasonable management action:

  • A manager can enforce policies, rules and regulations.
  • A manager can transfer, roster/allocate and delegate employees.
  • Deciding not to select a worker for promotion and or implementing organisational changes or downsizing is not bullying.
  • The employer may reprimand, demote, discipline, retrench or counsel staff, as long as they are acting reasonably.
  • A manager can set performance goals, standards or management processes and enforce deadlines.
  • Single instances of inappropriate behaviour are not bullying.
  • Occasional differences of opinion, non-aggressive conflicts and problems in working relationships are not bullying.

Bullying is the indirect or direct act of belittling someone else or making them feel inferior. It can be verbal, emotional, physical or cyber. Unreasonable behaviour includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening. It can include:

  • False accusations.
  • Yelling, shouting and screaming.
  • Exclusion and the ‘silent treatment’.
  • Put-downs, insults and excessively harsh criticism.
  • Withholding resources necessary to do a job.
  • ‘Behind the back’ sabotage and defamation.
  • Unreasonably heavy work demands.
  • Behaving aggressively.
  • Teasing or practical jokes.
  • Pressuring someone to behave inappropriately.

Bullying can cause a range of issues including clinical depression, severe anxiety, irritability, harm to personal relationships, symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, loss of confidence and self-esteem, withdrawal, breakdown and suicide. It also leads to reduced productivity for businesses as employees may have trouble making decisions and a reduced ability to concentrate.

Indeed, research out of the UK suggests that workplace bullying has been a factor in the loss of 18.9 million working days each year. The largest commercial insurance company in the UK has suggested that this scale of absenteeism costs businesses approximately £18 billion annually.

Anyone who feels they are being bullied at work can take the following steps:

  • Check their workplace policy on bullying and harassment.
  • Report what happens and when.
  • Talk to people they trust — whether this is a friend, counsellor or other support person.
  • Tell a manager or supervisor.
  • If they cannot resolve the issue within their workplace, they can talk to the Fair Work Commission, speak to a union rep, or, if the bullying is violent or threatening, go to the police.

myosh has developed the Wellbeing platform to manage workplace mental health. The platform enables staff to confidentially report bullying issues. It offers managers a central and secure database for incident history and provides tools and guidance for managing issues in the workplace.

Mywellbeing is an innovative set of cloud-based tools and resources that make it easy for managers to identify, nurture and improve workplace mental health.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Dtokar

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