Identifying Bullying in the Workplace

Identifying Bullying in the Workplace

What is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

It is a risk to health and safety because it may affect the mental and physical health of workers. Taking steps to prevent it from occurring and responding quickly if it does is the best way to deal with workplace bullying.

Bullying can take different forms including psychological, physical or even indirect—for example deliberately excluding someone from work-related activities. It can be obvious and it can be subtle, which means it’s not always easy to spot.

Some examples of workplace bullying include:

  • abusive or offensive language or comments
  • aggressive and intimidating behaviour
  • belittling or humiliating comments
  • practical jokes or initiation
  • unjustified criticism or complaints.

What is not workplace bullying.

Not all behaviour that makes a worker feel upset or undervalued is workplace bullying.

Reasonable management action taken in a reasonable way is not workplace bullying. Managers are responsible for monitoring the quality and timeliness of work and providing staff with feedback on their performance. If performance issues need to be addressed, the conversation needs to be constructive and supportive, and focus on the positives as well as the negatives. It should not be humiliating or demeaning.

Unreasonable behaviour may involve unlawful discrimination or sexual harassment, which in isolation is not workplace bullying. Discrimination on the basis of a protected trait in employment may be unlawful under anti-discrimination, equal employment opportunity, workplace relations and human rights laws.

Differences of opinion and disagreements are also generally not workplace bullying. However, in some cases, conflict that is not managed may escalate to the point where it becomes workplace bullying.

Implications of workplace bullying

There are legal obligations to consider all health and safety risks in the workplace including workplace bullying.

Failure to take steps to manage the risk of workplace bullying can result in a breach of WHS laws. Depending upon which state you are in Australia it is possible to receive 10 year prison sentences for bullying. Refer to as Brodies Law.

Workplace bullying is best dealt with by taking steps to prevent it from happening and responding quickly if it does occur. The longer the bullying behaviour continues, the harder it becomes to repair working relationships and the greater the risk to health and safety.

Effects of bullying

Workplace bullying can seriously harm worker mental health with depression, psychological distress and emotional exhaustion common outcomes for bullied workers. These health outcomes may adversely impact the workplace with workers taking sick leave and being less productive (presenteeism), both of which damage productivity.

Managing the risk of workplace bullying

Organisations can minimise the risk of workplace bullying by taking a proactive approach to identify early, any unreasonable behaviour and situations likely to increase the risk of workplace bullying occurring.

Organisations should implement control measures to manage these risks; monitor and review the effectiveness of these measures. This could include activities such as:

  • Regularly consulting with workers and health and safety representatives to find out if bullying is occurring or if there are factors likely to increase the risk of workplace bullying.
  • Setting the standard of workplace behaviour, for example through a code of conduct or workplace bullying policy.
  • Designing safe systems of work by clearly defining jobs and providing workers with the resources, information and training they need to carry out their work safely.
  • Implementing workplace bullying reporting and response procedures.
  • Developing productive and respectful workplace relationships through good management practices and effective communication.
  • Providing information and training on workplace bullying policies and procedures, available support and assistance, and how to prevent and respond to workplace bullying.
  • Prioritising measures that foster and protect the psychological health of employees.

The White Jacket Effect is an organisation dedicated to improving the professionalism, performance, culture and well-being of the hospitality industry through education. We are committed to changing the culture of the hospitality industry to make it a safer, more enjoyable workplace.

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