Understanding Workplace Bullying

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The implications of workplace bullying for organisations can be significant. Not only can it be harmful to the person experiencing the bullying, but also to those who witness it. The personal effects can vary from causing distress, anxiety, physical illness, negative impact on work performance and depression. It can also result in increased costs for a business. A report published by Worksafe Australia in 2016 included the following key findings:-

  • The total cost of depression to Australian employers due to presenteeism and absenteeism is estimated to be approximately $6.3 billion per annum.
  • Workers with psychological distress took four times as many sick days per month and had a 154% higher performance loss at work than those not experiencing psychological distress. This equates to an average cost of $6,309 per annum in comparison with those not experiencing psychological distress.
  • Relative to workers with high engagement, workers with low engagement have approximately 12% more sick days per month and an average performance loss of eight per cent, costing employers $4796 per annum.

A person conducting a business has the primary duty of care to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that their workers are not exposed to health and safety risks – including bullying in the workplace.

What is bullying?

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

The term repeated can be characterised by persistent behaviour and/or may include a range of behaviours displayed over time. Unreasonable behaviour can be intentional or unintentional and can include behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening. Workplace bullying may be verbal or physical abuse through face to face conduct, via email, text messaging or social media channels. In some cases, workplace bullying can continue outside of the workplace. Some examples of workplace bullying may include, but is not limited to:  

  • Abusive, insulting or offensive language or comments
  • Unjustified criticism or complaints
  • Deliberately excluding someone from workplace activities
  • Withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
  • Setting unreasonable timelines or constantly changing deadlines.

What is not workplace bullying?

Workplace conflict, such as differences in opinion and disagreements are generally not workplace bullying. Further, a single incident of unreasonable behaviour is not considered to be workplace bullying.

Reasonable management action is not considered to be bullying when it is carried out in a reasonable way. It can be considered reasonable management action when Supervisors make decisions about poor performance, take disciplinary action and direct and control the way work is undertaken.

Whether management action is undertaken in a reasonable way is determined by considering the actual action, not a worker’s perception of it. In determining whether management action is reasonable, one thing that may be considered is whether there has been a significant departure from established policies or procedures and whether it is reasonable considering the circumstances.

If workplace bullying is affecting you, you should raise concerns with your Supervisor, Manager or Human Resources Department. For a free, confidential chat about workplace bullying, get in touch with one of our HR consultants at Preston HR.