Workplace bullying is on the rise: Is Australian HR failing?


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:

  1. The productivity hypothesis, where bullying is used as part of the organisation’s strategy to increase productivity.
  2. 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).
  3. The work environment hypothesis, which states that the stress of poor quality work environments naturally leads to more bullying.
  4. 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.

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Phillip
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Phillip

Hmmm, could be a couple of different reasons why there has been a reported increase in instances of workplace bullying. Perhaps people feel they can now report workplace bullying without fear of reprisal and are confident they will get the back up and support they need to address the issue to completion. Or perhaps that we now live in a more sensitive society where historically if you got did something wrong your supervisor would yell at you and you would get back to work and don’t do it again, as where now if you are the supervisor of someone that… Read more »

Kevin Scott
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Kevin Scott

I agree with the article and while the evidence suggests that complaints are increasing to disturbing levels, equally there is compelling evidence that it is unreported. The reporting of bully, discrimination, harassment or sexual harassment is extremely difficult for the staff member complaining given the: • Inequality of the power relationship expressed at personal, cultural or systemic levels • Stereotyping often reflected in unconscious bias that diminishes the potential at an individual and organisational level • The importance of perceptions of reputation: for men it is often about them as leaders, and for women it is about them personally and,… Read more »

Sandra Walden Pearson
Guest
Sandra Walden Pearson

We are seeing the result of an emphasis of the interventionalist approach to the phenomenon of workplace bullying. I term it the ‘fire drill’ approach and it follows easily if ‘fire’ is replaced with ‘workplace bullying’. It goes like this: here is the definition of fire. This is what it looks like and this is what it smells like. Fire is never appropriate in the workplace. In case of fire, break glass (which is to reach for the relevant Equity and Respect/Diversity policy). Systematically, HR Professionals are akin to firefighters because by this time, there is at least smoke, if… Read more »

Dan Erbacher
Guest
Dan Erbacher

If you want to talk about bullying, then the biased mainstream media needs to start applying the blowtorch of scrutiny to the hypocritical ALP who refuse to do anything to address rampant bullying and thuggery in quite a few unions. It is even more hypocritical that these same politicians keep prattling on about Domestic Violence, street violence, and violence generally, yet are too gutless to sort out the thugs in the unions. TV journalists (with the exception of Sky News) are complicit in that there is hardly any sort of news items about these issues. Without several courageous tabloid journalists… Read more »

Katherine King
Guest
Katherine King

Interesting data for us all to consider. I believe this is a more deeply systemic problem than workplace bullying in isolation. Our leaders and managers are very poorly trained, with little access or instruction on workplace law and workers rights, recruitment, selection, learning, performance and development planning, giving and receiving feedback, operational planning and management, managing bullies and fostering appropriate behaviour in the workplace. I’ve worked in a number of different countries for a range of different companies and I am always struck by how our managers fall woefully short in competence, confidence and commitment in Australia. We should be… Read more »

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More on HRM

Workplace bullying is on the rise: Is Australian HR failing?


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:

  1. The productivity hypothesis, where bullying is used as part of the organisation’s strategy to increase productivity.
  2. 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).
  3. The work environment hypothesis, which states that the stress of poor quality work environments naturally leads to more bullying.
  4. 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.

19
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Phillip
Guest
Phillip

Hmmm, could be a couple of different reasons why there has been a reported increase in instances of workplace bullying. Perhaps people feel they can now report workplace bullying without fear of reprisal and are confident they will get the back up and support they need to address the issue to completion. Or perhaps that we now live in a more sensitive society where historically if you got did something wrong your supervisor would yell at you and you would get back to work and don’t do it again, as where now if you are the supervisor of someone that… Read more »

Kevin Scott
Guest
Kevin Scott

I agree with the article and while the evidence suggests that complaints are increasing to disturbing levels, equally there is compelling evidence that it is unreported. The reporting of bully, discrimination, harassment or sexual harassment is extremely difficult for the staff member complaining given the: • Inequality of the power relationship expressed at personal, cultural or systemic levels • Stereotyping often reflected in unconscious bias that diminishes the potential at an individual and organisational level • The importance of perceptions of reputation: for men it is often about them as leaders, and for women it is about them personally and,… Read more »

Sandra Walden Pearson
Guest
Sandra Walden Pearson

We are seeing the result of an emphasis of the interventionalist approach to the phenomenon of workplace bullying. I term it the ‘fire drill’ approach and it follows easily if ‘fire’ is replaced with ‘workplace bullying’. It goes like this: here is the definition of fire. This is what it looks like and this is what it smells like. Fire is never appropriate in the workplace. In case of fire, break glass (which is to reach for the relevant Equity and Respect/Diversity policy). Systematically, HR Professionals are akin to firefighters because by this time, there is at least smoke, if… Read more »

Dan Erbacher
Guest
Dan Erbacher

If you want to talk about bullying, then the biased mainstream media needs to start applying the blowtorch of scrutiny to the hypocritical ALP who refuse to do anything to address rampant bullying and thuggery in quite a few unions. It is even more hypocritical that these same politicians keep prattling on about Domestic Violence, street violence, and violence generally, yet are too gutless to sort out the thugs in the unions. TV journalists (with the exception of Sky News) are complicit in that there is hardly any sort of news items about these issues. Without several courageous tabloid journalists… Read more »

Katherine King
Guest
Katherine King

Interesting data for us all to consider. I believe this is a more deeply systemic problem than workplace bullying in isolation. Our leaders and managers are very poorly trained, with little access or instruction on workplace law and workers rights, recruitment, selection, learning, performance and development planning, giving and receiving feedback, operational planning and management, managing bullies and fostering appropriate behaviour in the workplace. I’ve worked in a number of different countries for a range of different companies and I am always struck by how our managers fall woefully short in competence, confidence and commitment in Australia. We should be… Read more »

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