Updated: 3 days ago
Let’s talk about Workplace Bullying.
This can be a difficult subject. There may be obvious signs of workplace bullying, however there may be more subtle or overt signs that may indicate your workplace isn’t quite as healthy as you believe.
Workplace Bullying can also occur at any level of a business, be it a CEO, Executive, Supervisor, Manager, workers, workgroups or whole departments. It is not gender nor age specific, however the longer it is left unaddressed, the more damaging the impact it has to the culture in the workplace.
There are two very distinctive features required to ensure your workplace is a healthy one.
Good Leadership (Leaders who role model the desired behaviours)
A workplace culture that embraces respectful and effective communication - (a focus on inclusion, acceptance and transparency)
First though, we need to understand what is Workplace Bullying?
According to the Australian Fair Work Commission definition, Workplace Bullying occurs:
"When an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work,
the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety."
What are the Risks to Health and Safety?
The risks of workplace bullying have real and significant consequences to a person’s physical and mental well-being.
Individuals may experience a range of symptoms which include:
Musculoskeletal problems and muscle fatigue/tension/headaches.
Suicidal thoughts or tendencies
Equally the person may not present with any of the above symptoms, however may be exposed to repeated bullying that has long-lasting impact to their psychological health.
Whilst there can be obvious impact to the health and wellbeing of an individual, it also has impact to a business.
What kind of impact to a business do I mean?
Potential claims against a business
Poor workplace culture
Damage to the branding of an organisation
High Turnover Rates
Reduced trust and loyalty by the employee
People look carefully to the reviews of businesses to understand if that is a place they want to work or be a part of. Clearly a culture of workplace bullying isn't a win/win situation for anyone and has the very real potential effect of turning prospective employees away.
What kind of workplace is your workplace?
8 signs you are a part of a healthy workplace!
1. Proactive approaches demonstrated by the business - Steps are taken to identify unreasonable behaviour early on and addressed.
2. Consultation is seen as key - Talking to workers and Health and Safety Representatives to find out what they say, to check how they feel and what they are observing. Situations increasing the risk for workplace bullying are identified. (Remember some types of workplace bullying are more overt or subtle)
3. Policy and Commitment - A Code of Conduct/Workplace Bullying Policy is in place and easily accessible by all.
4. Prevention and Support - An opportunity has been given to you to learn and develop your own knowledge and skills about Workplace Bullying/Harassment. Your workplace clearly defines jobs and provides workers with the training, instruction and resources they need to carry out their job.
5. Committed Leadership and good management practices - Reports are handled respectfully, quickly and effectively.
6. A Workplace Culture exists that fosters and protects the psychological health of its workers.
7. Effective communication strategies are implemented.
8. Good Management Practices that foster productive and respectful workplace relationships.
How does your workplace measure up?
Even in 2021, Workplace Bullying remains one of the leading causes of work-related mental stress. We can all do our part to help by focussing on change.
What does Workplace Bullying look like? (And what it's not)
It may include (this is not exhaustive):
intimidation, coercion, threats, humiliation, shouting, sarcasm, victimisation, terrorising, singling-out, malicious pranks, physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, belittling, bad faith, harassment, conspiracy to harm, ganging-up, isolation, freezing-out, ostracism, innuendo, rumour-mongering, disrespect, mobbing, mocking, victim-blaming and discrimination.
That's some list!
Let’s look at some examples of these behaviours. Some of these have been shared with me from people's real life experiences in workplaces.
Aggressive and Intimidating conduct
A worker is yelling and swearing at a co-worker
A manager is in a fit of rage and shaking fists at a worker/pounding the table
Belittling or humiliating comments
A co-worker refers to a co-worker as a 'witch' repeatedly and consistently in front of her peers. (this happened to a lady who considered herself a spiritual person).
You make a complaint to your workplace about discrimination and you are denied a promotion.
Spreading Malicious rumours
Emailing, texting or spreading malicious rumours through social media about a worker. Cyber-bullying in particular, is on the rise.
Practical Jokes or Initiation
In a sheet metal workshop, the new apprentice is hung up on the paint line and sent around the factory as an initiation into the team (sadly this kind of behaviour occurred with regularity in the 80's - he was hung up by his belt, the belt broke and fell from the line landing directly on his head).
Exclusion from work-related or work events
A worker being given the wrong meeting times or not invited to required meetings/a worker being deliberately excluded from work events.
It could also be a case of people standing up consistently to leave a room when a worker enters the room, essentially ostracising them.
Unreasonable work expectations
Providing a worker consistently with urgent, lengthy projects at the end day when about to leave the office. (setting impossible deadlines).
Being singled out for not consistently doing overtime every day.
When is it not Workplace Bullying?
Not every situation will be related to Workplace Bullying. If reasonable management action is taken then it is not considered bullying. I emphasise the word 'reasonable' here. Some examples of reasonable management action includes: (again this is not exhaustive)
Hosting performance management conversations. These should be respectful, supportive and constructive.
Implementation of organisational changes or restructures (which may involve redundancy)
Successful applicants are selected through a merit based recruitment process.
Fair and reasonable allocation of working hours and rostering system.
Work expectations meet the job description.
We all have responsibilities in terms of safety at work. It is everyone's responsibility to be involved and help.
Do YOUR part and report Workplace Bullying to keep your
Want to do a check on just how healthy your workplace is? HeadsUp have a range of wonderful resources to support leaders, managers, employees, employers and small businesses.
Want to know more? Refer to Safe Work Australia for a guide on preventing and responding to workplace bullying.