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Tackling Workplace Bullying and Harassment

Weekly WHS Article 30th November 2023

While the organisational costs of incivility and toxicity are well documented, bullying at work is still a problem in some workplaces in Australia. Bullying is defined under section 789FD of the Fair Work Amendment Act 2013 (Commonwealth) as when an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behave unreasonably towards a worker and that behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Bullying is not a one-off instance or a “flash in the pan.” Bullying can be a range of behaviours over time such as verbal abuse, threats of termination, refusal of reasonable requests of training when others are able to get it, exclusion from meetings or events, and denying access to equipment or resources that you need to do your job.

Such a wide range of behaviours and complexity makes addressing it difficult and sometimes ineffective. For example, most anti-bullying advice, from “anger management” to zero-tolerance policies, deals with more overt forms of bullying (outwardly obvious.) Covert bullying (hidden and underhanded) such as withholding information or gaslighting, is harder to identify and may be less considered or addressed.

W. Edwards Deming famously wrote that 94% of issues in the workplace are systemic, and only 6% attributable to individual-level, personal factors. Effectively addressing all types and indicators of bullying requires a systematic and prevention-focused approach.

If we just dissect the “cost” of bullying, we could see the following outcomes:

  1. Physical Costs: physical illness, burnout, sleep disorders etc.

  2. Psychological Costs: anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts.

  3. Social Costs: loss of reputation, trust, friends, and professional support

  4. Economic Costs: loss of income

  5. Organisations Costs: loss of productivity, turnover and replacement costs, reputational damage

Bullying is a behaviour of opportunity that may be enabled by organisational environments that allow it to occur and continue. Organisations cannot eliminate megalomania or excessive egotism from human nature, but it is possible to create systems in which unacceptable behaviours are dampened rather than reinforced.

At work, the PCBU has the overall responsibility to provide a safe workplace, which means one that's free of bullying and harassment. By law, if you report bullying behaviour, the PCBU must go through a proper process for handling your complaint. If you see someone in the workplace being bullied, you also have the opportunity to help, maybe by reaching out to the person being bullied to support them and assist with reporting the behaviour they’re experiencing if necessary.

Hence it becomes critical for the organisations to review:

  1. Duties of various WHS Duty holders in relation to workplace bullying (refs Section 19 and 27 of the WHS Act 2011)

  2. Consultation mechanisms to enable workers to have input in developing policies and procedures for workplace bullying. (Section 46-49 of the WHS Act)

  3. Risk Management of Psychosocial Hazards (Section 17, 18 of the WHS Act, Clause 55A – 55D of the WHS Regulation 2017.)

  4. Incident Reporting and Investigation Procedures including protecting workers from reprisals when reporting incidents, hazards, and risks. Also to protect people from being wrongly accused.

  5. Training programs to ensure they include readily understandable information and instruction on workplace bullying policies and procedures (ref Section 19 {3f} of the WHS Act, and Clause 39 of the WHS Regulation.)

Courtenell has some new services on the subject of psychosocial risk management including a short, workshop presenting a hands-on overview from a managerial perspective with reference to the listed psychosocial hazards and risks from the Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.

Bullying and harassment is also taken up specifically in the new Courtenell Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace Workshop, another short presentation suitable for business owners, officers, managers and supervisors. See here.

If you are interested in any of these please feel free to contact one of our WHS training experts.

Tackling Workplace Bullying and Harassment
Download PDF • 222KB

30th November 2023

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