Workplace Bullying: The safety concern no one is talking about

If you’re not paying attention, there could be an almost invisible threat in your workplace. Sure, improved OHS policies and systems mean death and serious injury in Australian workplaces are on the decline. However, the long-term damage caused by workplace bullying is of growing concern across all industries.

Safe Work Australia statistics show a reduction in serious incidents and fatalities since 2000. However, the same organisation reports that 1 in 2 people will be the victim of workplace bullying in their career. Unfortunately, a large percentage will never reach out to their HR manager about it.

Workplace bullying is a problem which affects not just the daily life of the victim, but their family, coworkers, and ultimately the organisation’s bottom line. It erodes trust and confidence. The impact of this can be seen in the employee’s ability to focus and contribute to the aims of the business. In cases where an organisation isn’t fit or prepared to tackle the problem, it results in absenteeism, higher staff turnover, and creating a knowledge vacuum.

“In 2010, the Productivity Commission found that bullying at work costs Australian organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year in lost productivity.” – ABC News

Ignoring bullying could also have legal consequences. As the Australian Commission on Human Rights, states: “Bullying may also be discrimination if it is because of your age, sex, pregnancy, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion or certain other reasons. Sexual harassment and racial hatred are also against the law.” 1

I’m being bullied at work. What should I do?

As we’ve seen, this is not uncommon. There are powers you can and should exercise. Firstly, check to see if your workplace has a bullying policy and complaints procedure. If not, raise this as a matter of importance with the relevant person at your organisation.

You should also:

    1. Document everything, in a diary or other record keeping device.
    2. Make it clear that the bullying is unwanted and not ‘all in good fun.’ Ask for support from a co-worker or manager if you feel unsure or unsafe how to proceed.
    3. Get support from someone you trust or contact your organisational support services.
    4. If the bullying continues, contact WorkSafe WA on 1300 655266

Actionable steps to improve organisational culture.

Stopping workplace bullying as an employee, manager or HR employee.

Put a prevention plan in place.

Like any potential hazard, having a written plan or policy in place is essential if you want employees to take the safest course of action. The plan should include steps staff may take if a boss or senior management is involved in bullying (as is the case in up to 60% of reported cases).

Get an action plan in place.

All management positions should have a plan detailing how to spot bullying, what action to take, and how to proceed if they receive a report of harassment or discrimination in the workplace. As well as limiting liability, it will improve their ability to manage, influence and inspire a new culture, develop tolerance, and instigate change. As a starting point, you should conduct an organisational ‘health check’ analaysis of your current environment.

Get employees on the same page

Frameworks such as the Workplace Bullying and Tolerance Workshop aim to help workers, team leaders and managers identify and deal with bullying. These facilitated programmes offer practical information on building a safer and happier workplace for everyone concerned, with the convenience of being delivered in the workplace.