According to the Fair Work Commission, Australia, bullying in the workplace happens when:
- A person or group of people repeatedly behave unreasonably towards another worker or group of workers
- The behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.
Examples of bullying include; behaving aggressively towards others, teasing or playing practical jokes, pressuring someone to behave inappropriately, excluding someone from work-related events; and unreasonable work demands (Fair Work Commission, 2021).
In the 6th edition of the Annual National Statement on; ‘Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces’ published by Safe Work Australia in June 2021, they outline 2018-2019 statistics of accepted claims filed due to work-related ‘mental stress’ (10,050); an increase over the past two years from their prior 2016-2017 study, and of those claims, more than double were from women employees compared with men. The extent of workplace bullying, however, is extremely difficult to quantify due to several factors, such as incidents that remain unreported, employee resignations due to bullying rather than submitting a complaint, and survey data focusing on current bullying (typically within the last 6 months) while employees may have experienced bullying earlier in their career. Having said that, in their report published some years ago, Magee et al. (2014) estimated that almost half of all Australian employees had experienced bullying at some point in their careers, and that clearly workplace bullying in Australia is a major issue.
Bullying in the workplace has serious consequences for individuals, organisations and society at large. Workplace bullying is a severe stressor that can have significant mental and physiological effects and lead to absenteeism, job turnover, early retirement or retirement due to disability and suicidal ideation and behaviour (Høgh et al., 2021). The psychological effects of workplace bullying commonly lead to employees developing or worsening depression and anxiety, it can result in post-traumatic stress disorder and an array of other conditions that require the specialist input from psychologists. Given this, what can be done to assist a person or organisation impacted by workplace bullying, and how can it be prevented?
The long-standing role of Psychology in assisting individuals and organisations in the area of workplace bullying involves two main areas: 1. Direct client support and advice to manage and improve employee mental health and wellbeing, and 2. Advice to organisations about policies and procedures about monitoring bullying and its prevention. There are many resources available that outline key strategies to address and combat workplace bullying. Of these, the Australian Psychological Society states five key strategies:
- Create channels for employees to voice their concerns;
- Break the collusion of silence around a bully’s behaviour and its impact on others;
- Offer the bully assistance to change behaviours;
- Deal with bullying through supervisory support and disciplinary action; and
- Modelling respectful behaviour from the top down and setting clear expectations at all levels of the organisation (APS, 2021).
If you are experiencing workplace bullying it is important to seek advice and support early to prevent the effects of bullying impacting your mental health. Talk to your GP, ask for a referral to a psychologist, and/or seek assistance through a workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Beyond Blue also has useful resources to tap into such as their online forum where individuals share stories about their experiences of being bullied and can help you to feel supported and not so alone. Beyond Blue also has a Helpline 1300 22 4636 to call if you or anyone you know needs to talk to someone immediately.
Australian Psychological Society. Bullying. https://psychology.org.au/for-the-public/psychology-topics/bullying
Beyond Blue. Workplace bullying & discrimination. https://www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/online-forums/employment-and-workplaces/workplace-bullying-discrimination
Fair Work Commission. Anti-bullying. https://www.fwc.gov.au/disputes-at-work/anti-bullying
Høgh A., Clausen T., Bickmann L., Hansen Å.M., Conway P.M., Baernholdt M. (2021) Consequences of Workplace Bullying for Individuals, Organizations and Society. In: D’Cruz P. et al. (eds) Pathways of Job-related Negative Behaviour. Handbooks of Workplace Bullying, Emotional Abuse and Harassment, vol 2. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-0935-9_8
Safe Work Australia (6th edition) Psychosocial health and safety and bullying in Australian workplaces. June 2021, https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au
Magee, C., Gordon, R., Caputi, P., Oades, L., Reis, S., & Robinson, L. (2014). Workplace bullying in Australia. University of Wollongong.
Dr Julie Hepworth, BA (Hons), PhD, MAPS, Senior Psychologist, ORS