New research speculates Australia is becoming a workplace bullying capital. Considering one in 10 Australians now experience bullying on the job, that statement is not far off the mark.
The national average of people experiencing workplace bullying has increased a staggering 40 per cent from 2011 to 2015.
Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) report Bullying & Harassment in Australian Workplaces, released last week, suggests that with this jump, Australia now has higher levels of bullying than the 34 European countries which participated in the similar European Working Conditions Survey in 2010.
Of concern to HR is the fact that 32.6 per cent of those bullied reported that the bullying was occurring at least once per week, with 12.3 per cent reporting it was happening daily. Also alarming was the duration of the bullying: only 13.6 per cent stated it lasted less than a month. Compare that to the 16.3 per cent who said their bullying lasted more than two years.
Bullying isn’t in and of itself evidence HR failure, but persistent bullying suggests there’s room for HR management to step in and make a real difference to the lives of employees.
What are the causes behind the rise?
The report delves into four different hypotheses as possible causes of workplace bullying:
- The productivity hypothesis, where bullying is used as part of the organisation’s strategy to increase productivity.
- The retain and build power hypothesis, where an individual believes bullying will benefit them personally (for instance, bullying a high achieving co-worker because one believes they pose a threat).
- The work environment hypothesis, which states that the stress of poor quality work environments naturally leads to more bullying.
- The psychosocial safety climate (PSC), on the other hand, is a broader hypothesis. It’s a theory that contends bullying is dependant on how much an organisation’s management emphasises their employees mental health and wellbeing. If management doesn’t emphasise it at all, then the potential for rampant bullying will be high.
SWA’s study centralises PSC as the most compelling potential cause, stating: “Above other work stress theories, PSC is considered the leading indicator and major predictor for all work-related psychosocial factors and their consequential health outcomes.”
However, the report found evidence for all four hypotheses, so it’s not a bad idea for an HR manager to take note of each one.
What can be done?
Workplace bullying is bad for workers and bad for productivity. There is also a growing fear that stress and bullying might be a ‘ticking time-bomb’ in terms of worker’s compensation.
With 62.3 per cent of bullied workers claiming their supervisor was the perpetrator, perhaps it’s not surprising that workplace bullying is a growing problem – it makes sense employees have a hard time trying to change the behaviour of their boss. That’s why the report’s authors recommend targeting managers and supervisors for training and education regarding proper management behaviour.
Also, priority should be given to making sure dealing with bullying isn’t a purely reactive process, as the right work culture can act as a strong preventative. If everyone buys in from the top down, role-models respectful relationships and values employee health and well-being, you’re on your way to a great PSC and to reducing workplace bullying across Australia.