The sad reality of workplace bullying

Take a look around your office – unfortunately there is a very high potential someone around you is dealing with some sort of workplace bullying or harassment.

A study by Safe Work Australia released in 2016 found almost one in 10 Australians had been bullied in the past six months, up from seven per cent of employees five years earlier.

Being sworn or yelled at is the most common form of office intimidation (37 per cent), followed by being humiliated in front of others (24 per cent) and, of those who reported they were bulled, almost one third were harassed at least once a week.

“One of the key elements to remember is that while the report indicates almost 10 per cent of the workforce is being bullied, the stats could be much higher,” says WCA Solutions Principal and HR expert Heather Warner.

“Staff will often put up with this behaviour and not bring it to anyone’s attention for fear of retribution. This is particularly prevalent when it is a person in a senior position, or their direct manager, who is the perpetrator.”

Identifying and managing bullies is crucial to maintaining workplace trust and staff satisfaction and avoid the cost of counterproductive behaviour.

Identifying toxic employees

Encouraging staff within your organisation to work together – cross-departmentally if possible – will help identify negative employees. A well communicated culture of openness and transparency, coupled with regular performance appraisals, should then determine if an employee poses a real risk to the organisation or if there is another issue at hand (ie. they are struggling to fit in, are unsure of expectations and therefore defensive, or if they themselves feel threatened).

Encouraging an open dialogue about workplace harassment and bullying throughout the organisation is also an important measure to ensure victims, and perpetrators, are not overlooked. This includes staff feeling comfortable they can discuss negative behaviour with people other than their immediate manager or supervisor.

Managing a workplace bully

One of the key elements of reducing workplace bullying is a dedicated focus by the senior leadership team of improving the psychological safety climate within the workplace. Safe Work recommends businesses raise awareness among managers and supervisors of the “profound effects of bullying and harassment at work (at a personal and organisation level) as well as the causes of workplace bullying and harassment.” It also suggests placing the psychological health of employees as a core business value.

If reports of bullying are made against a staff member it is important to act swiftly and thoroughly, Heather said.

“Organisations subject to workplace bullying claims should immediately investigate the allegations, following the correct guidelines for workplace investigations,” she said.

“This process may well uncover some uncomfortable truths about the workplace culture but should highlight key areas to address and management issues that may have led to the behaviour.

“It’s not good enough to just blame a bad apple and move on – it is also vital to ensure there is not a wider problem, whether that be in recruitment, job stresses or a lack of policies and processes, that allowed that toxicity to enter in the first place.”

As a specialist HR consultancy, WCA Solutions has extensive experience in conducting workplace investigations, undertaking performance management processes and assisting businesses ensure their HR polices and processes are up to date. If your business requires HR support and/or guidance, please phone the office on +61 8 9383 3293 or email