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Is Workplace Bullying a National Disgrace?

Thank you to Bernie Althofer, Educator, Author of ‘Resolving Workplace Bullying’, and Managing Director of EGL I Assessments Pty Ltd, for this article on bullying in the workplace. This is the first segment on this subject – please stay tuned for further articles.

Consider these four statements:

  1. Workplace bullying incidents have the potential to create financial, physical and psychological trauma to individuals and organisations.
  2. Individual and corporate reputations can be severely affected when allegations are ignored or are not effectively investigated.
  3. Someone, somewhere died today (physically or psychologically) because of bullying.
  4. There is an increased chance that you will be held personally liable for breaches of the law.

Definitions of Workplace BullyingHow would you respond in a Court, Commission or Tribunal if you were confronted by a legal team representing a victim or the family of a victim who had died because of workplace bullying?

In some cases, your personal or organisational reputation will be damaged because you did not consider workplace bullying to be a risk.

For some individuals and organisations, policies and procedures will be implemented on the intranet, but this may mean little when it comes time to defend an allegation. 

Workplace bullying has a direct and indirect impact on victims, alleged bullies, organisations, the medical and legal professions, the family/friends and associates, the investigators and the media.

Each plays a critical role in preventing, detecting and resolution workplace bullying.  You have to understand what your role is now and what is will be in the future.  Plan for the day when you will be involved in a workplace bullying incident.

Everyone has a tale to tell about how they have been bullied, how a friend was bullied, how the manager was bullied and even how the client was bullied.  After a while all the stories start to sound the same, only the location varies.

In this relatively short article, I want to highlight what I believe are some critical issues that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

We all have choices to make and sometimes it easy to look back in hindsight and understand why a different course of action should have been taken.  We only have to do a quick search on the internet to see how many people are talking about workplace bullying.  It seems that hardly a day goes by without some mention of bullying being made.

Is there too much talk and not enough action?

National Disgrace

If a national company lost between $3 billion and $36 billion a year, there would be all sorts of inquiries and media attention.  It would be viewed as a national disgrace and the executives of that company would be vilified. 

However, various publications and media sources indicate that workplace bullying reportedly costs Australian business between $3 and $36 billion per year.  These costs can include:

  • Adverse publicity
  • Criminal charges
  • Vicarious liability – personal
  • Disciplinary action
  • Absenteeism
  • Presenteeism
  • Staff turnover
  • Increased stress claims
  • Loss of productivity
  • Increased negative workplace conflict
  • Poor work performance
  • Wasted resources
  • Increased workload
  • Poor motivation
  • Family costs
  • Medical expenses
  • Legal costs
  • Physical health
  • Psychological health
  • Sabotage
  • Investigation costs
  • Training costs

Some of these costs to business can slip through the cracks as there is no structured approach to collecting or reviewing them.  It can be impossible to allocate an accurate dollar cost on these issues when a workplace bullying incident may go unreported or undetected for a long period of time. 

We should not be lulled into a false sense of security and believe these costs are acceptable.  We should also understand that there are numerous indirect costs involved.

The cynics might say that it is part of doing business and the costs or expenses will be recovered by increasing the price of the product or services being provided to consumers. 

It is also important to consider that the real cost of workplace bullying might not be known.  Some victims may choose to remain silent in fear of further retribution or job loss and some organisations may have no systems or processes in place to collect data about the extent of workplace bullying.

At a time when Australian businesses are tightening their belt because of the international economic situation, and reviewing employment levels, improving systems and processes, it seems to be an appropriate time to be innovative and creative at a national level to reduce the overall negative impact of bullying. 

Who knows, additional job opportunities might be created through the savings generated by addressing causal factors, reducing negative outcomes and creating long term strategies that create positive workplaces.

At a time when the cost of doing business is being reviewed, it is timely that bullying as a bottom line operating cost is addressed.

The negative impact of all forms of bullying has generated a growth industry.  Legislators, researchers, heath and safety professionals, legal and medical professionals, practitioners and consultants, victim support groups, the media and investigators all play a part, some being proactive and some reactive. 

Whilst each and every person is doing something in their own way that contributes to detecting, preventing or resolving workplace bullying, there is no national unified approach.  Image the benefits that could flow if there was a co-ordinated and unified approach.

It also seems that there has been extensive academic research conducted to date, that the answers have already been developed, but for one reason or other are lying around to be ‘discovered’.  No doubt, there are many groups who have been funded for research that is conducted over a long period of time. Again, this might be a cost that could be added to the cost of workplace bullying.

It might be time to pull all the research together (irrespective of source), synthesise the findings, pull out what might work, and put it into practice.  One thing that keeps coming with some of the people that I talk to is the need for simple guidelines about what works and what doesn’t.  Many people just say to me “Just tell me what I have to do; I don’t have time to wait for all that to happen.”

Academic research does have its purpose and many great results have been achieved for those involved.  However, the research could be used to greater benefit if it were adopted at a national level to drive change.

Some people might believe that a proactive response should focus on the victim/s.  However, if there were no bullies, there would be no costs incurred.  Perhaps the real focus should be on the bully and how much they cost the organisation, the customers or clients, or even the taxpayers.

Definitions

Definitions can help people understand the elements of what is and what isn’t bullying.  Whilst some words are consistent, there is no singular international or national definition of bullying.

Not only is that a problem for individuals who are confronted with a virtual maze of what bullying means, organisations that operate across a number of States or Territories must know each State or Territory definition.

No two States or Territory has the same approach to detecting, preventing or resolving bullying.  The development of a single, nationally accepted definition of workplace would provide assistance and guidance to organisations and to individuals.

Perhaps there an overemphasis on the word ‘bully’ and some people might wear the tag as a badge of honour.  We should understand that there is considerable research being undertaken on an international level (with Australia and South Eastern Asia) being included.

Definitions can be problematic if criminal charges are pursued.  Each element of the offence must be present and generally there is a requirement to ensure the offence has been committed.  Of course, there is no criminal offence of bullying per se and allegations into bullying only have to be proven to the civil standard of proof, not the criminal standard which requires the charge to be proven ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’.

Where there is a lack of clarity about bullying, this could lead to confusion, and ultimately continued dissatisfaction with outcomes achieved.

We really do need to have a common language and understanding of what is and what isn’t bullying.

Thank you Bernie.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (1)

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  1. Denise Smallwood says:

    What a great article, having worked within a company where bullying seemed to be endemic, this would have been a great help, but sadly to avoid the bullying, which had been reported and documented many times, I left, along with many others over a three year period. I feel most Managers do not know how to approach the actual bully and use a head in the sand approach.

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