How to recognise bullying in the workplace

Have you ever been bullied?

While we would hope that question brings up memories of childhood, sadly, for many people, they will picture the workplace. And when bullying enters your work force, it can create major problems that have drastic implications for your small or medium sized business' HR management.

According to a 2012 report from Safe Work Australia's (SWA) Workplace Barometer series, almost 7 per cent of the 5,000-plus survey respondents reported that they experienced bullying in the final six months of 2012. With international rates generally sitting between 1 and 4 per cent, it is clear that there is a problem in Australia that needs to be remedied.

As a manager, what do you need to be aware of to prevent bullying from taking hold in your company?

Being treated unreasonable is not okay and legally constitutes a workplace hazard.Being treated unreasonably is not okay and legally constitutes a workplace hazard.

What is bullying at work?

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, workplace bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable actions towards one or more workers that pose a risk to health and safety. This can include but is not limited to victimising, intimidating, threatening and humiliating.

Ultimately, if a reasonable person would see any alleged bullying behaviour as undue considering the circumstance, then this would be deemed as bullying and can be categorised as a workplace hazard.

But knowing what to look out for isn't as easy as you might expect, as examples range from blatant assault to subtle mistreatment without being provoked, including:

  • Verbal or physical abuse, including yelling and offensive language
  • Intentionally alienating employees
  • Mental harassment
  • Setting impossible tasks or assigning jobs that are unrelated to their job
  • Deliberately inconveniencing employees, such as through impractical work rosters or withholding important information
  • Intimidating or threatening employees

What are my obligations as an employer?

As an employer or manager, you are legally obliged to provide a safe working environment for your employees. This means taking all practicable steps to reduce hazards, which includes any instances of workplace bullying.

Employees are protected by National and State laws in relation to bullying and employers could face criminal prosecution or be liable for damages if bullying claims are not addressed correctly.

Following substantive procedures can protect you against psychological injury claims.Following substantive procedures can protect you against psychological injury claims.

How does bullying affect organisational performance?

The most important costs of bullying are to the victims, with a wide range of both physical and mental illnesses possible. This can have a negative impact on company performance, as victims may exhibit poor performance, low morale, increased mistakes, and generally lower quality work.

However, according to the Zero Bully Australia Foundation, 70 per cent of employers will ignore the problem if they notice bullying because they don't feel it is their duty to help. This group – the bystanders – can have a major impact if they are educated about how to identify and deal with bullying at work effectively.

Bullying costs Australian employers between $6 and $36 billion each year.

What are the indirect costs of bullying?

Estimates from the Australian Human Rights Commission suggest that anywhere between 2.5 and 5 million Australians will experience some form of harassment at work during their careers, with at least 400,000 victims amounting each year.

A range of physical and psychological outcomes can derive from bullying, including depression, stress, anxiety and insomnia. And these can have a major impact on an organisation. Be it through increased absenteeism, staff disengagement, decreased morale, unnecessary departures or the loss of motivation from critical employees, the Human Rights commission estimates that it costs employers between $6 and $36 billion each year.

Moreover, ignoring any instances of bullying at work can make you liable for damaging legal actions. If you need advice on how to manage, prevent or educate staff about bullying at your workplace, get in contact with Flexi Personnel today.