Saturday, February 27, 2010

Workplace Bullying: The Truth Hurts

Contemporary studies are emerging that indicates workplace bullying is widespread but under reported and under identified (Namie & Namie, 2001). Workplace bullying (harassment) has been recognised as a breach of workplace code of conduct and an ethical violation under Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995. Furthermore, the Australian Psychological Society (2004) suggests that approximately 70% of workers are currently, or have been bullied and experience a bullying culture in their workplace. In New South Wales, bullying is believed to be the number one occupational health and safety issue (Lalande, 2009).

The existing legislation within Australia appears to be insufficient to protect or prevent Australian workers being bullied in their work environments. It appears Australian society is at a critical point with workplace bullying being identified as being at epidemic proportions. The Australian Government needs to review its policies, procedures and legislation in the interest of workplace safety to ensure the human rights of Australian workers are protected.

It is no longer acceptable to band-aid bullying in the workplace, no one deserves or asks to be bullied. Everyone has the right to a work environment free from bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence.

So the question remains... who really is responsible for Workplace bullying?


  1. Of course the employers/managers are responsible for workplace bullying. By not promoting or encouraging an environment that does not tolerate or endorse such antic's. Nor are they encouraging an environment where one can, without fear, feel that they can bring such behaviors to light.

  2. Hi fellow bloggers,
    I would like to expand on Nellie's comments and the comments above. When I think about who is responsible, yes I recognise the management and the employer responsibilities; however I also think about the responsibility of society and how social members through finding their voice can make a difference.
    I think about the feminist movement and the human rights campaigns and recognise bullying as a human rights challenge for all society. Bullying in the workplace is a social issue and society needs to respond to the bullies.
    I have been reading about bullying and mobbing in work environments and the literature alludes to the fact that bullies are opportunists, that take advantage of the situation they are in to use power for personal gains.
    Let's build a social campaign to make our world a safe place, where bullying will not be tolerated and where bullying does not have the opportunity to exist.

  3. 1. everyone is responsible to do something about it: management; peers; even the targets of bullying themselves however
    2. the targets have no clue that what is happening to them is called "bullying" -as we associate bullying with something that happens to children/youth in schools and is 'physical' and by the time the targets found out what is really happening to them it may be too late......they may have lost all of their resilience
    2. peers will joing the bully for several of them is they have been lied and manipulated by the bully
    3. management is 'ill equipt' to manage the bully and bullying in the workplace

    Bully does not end in the school yard - it continues into the workplace and it has a devastating effect on targets; the family of the targets; organisations and the community - as they may loose a productive member of society to bullying.

    Elena Madan 12/3/10

  4. Thanks for your comments.
    Our research also supports your statement that bullying does not end in the school yard- it continues into the workplace. It has been identified that school bullying is a precursor to adult bullying.
    The research looking at school bullying has increased in the last 10 years and it has found links between childhood bullying and workplace bullying, self-esteem, confidence, violent behaviour and agression.
    As a group we are exploring where is the best intervention point to address workplace bullying.
    Maybe the school environment is a place to start?
    We would love to hear your opinions and thoughts.

  5. I think the key point here is to define "responsible" which brings to light many legal and ethical responses to wo is responsible.

    Technically, from a legal standpoint those who bully are themselves responsible for their actions. To expand on it further, if a person is assaulted in the broader community it is not the community who is responisble but the one who commited the assault. I believe bullying behaviour is related to competition in the workplace whether it be generated from ambition or it is a result of personality conflict (don't want to generalise). Perhaps one could suggest it is a result of capitalism from a social constructivist viewpoint.

    Now by defining responsible as being whose to prevent bullying from occurring. There could be two levels of intervention. Undoubtably, the workplace should be free from hazards, these are generally listed under Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 and supportive documentation. This legislation overrides most other Acts, one hazard is defined under psychosocial hazards. This levels the responsibility in the hands of the organisation under WH&S. So how do workplaces facilitate a safe work environment and what avenues are presented to report bullying behaviour generates more questions. From my experience there are generally no real sanctions against bullies in the workplace. There is no clear cut answer as reporting the problem of workplace bullying can generate worse behaviour.

    Last, I think it is the responsibility of all workers to ensure that bullying does not occur. Afterall, don't we have a duty of care to ourselves and others. Just some thoughts.

  6. Hi Allan,
    Thanks for your comments.
    What has been identified and commented in the literature is that many workplaces have HR policies to address harassment (bullying is still not identified within legal definitions). However many workers are reluctant to go along the formal path of reporting to HR. Informal conversations may be had with HR & OHS departments, however making a formal grievance frequently is not activated.
    It appears that workers have little confidence in the possibility for positive outcomes or the process of redress.
    Many workers prefer to manage the situation themselves, and if the situation does not improve overtime will leave the work environment.
    As a group we have been contemplating not only the personal costs to the individuals being bullied, we have also been discussing the economic impact on the organisation and potential client services.
    Public awareness has increased in the last 10 years about the reality of workplace bullying. Organisational accountability usually sits within the OHS area.
    Organisations are being challenged to provide safe work environments for the staff under their care. Organisations are being held more accountable, now that workplace bullying is being evaluated within a cultural context. Questions such as; What environment enables bullying activities? What are the organisations doing to provide a safe work environment? Are people able to speak up against the bullies? Or is fear the cultural norm?
    There are cases of workplace harassment frequently ending up at the anti-discrimination tribunals and within the legal system.
    Organisational payouts are a reality. Where is the money coming to cover the payouts?
    In the human service environment it is frequently identified that economic supplies for services and client support is provided on a minimal budget.
    Where is the payout money coming from in the human service environment? One hypothesis or could it be a bit of conspiracy theory that service delivery funds are being siphoned away from client services into organisational protection and hush money payouts?
    Workplaces frequently attempt to minimise the cultural bullying challenges and often collude with the bully as they attempt to avoid any possible legal, economic or ethical challenges and subsequent consequences.

  7. Hello
    Thank you all for initiating this conversation about workplace bulling and looking at ways to address this very real and complex issue. A payout or compensation it not the main procupation for survivers of bullying, but the long lasting impact on a persons welbeing and ability to do good work. From personal experience what contribute to the difficulties addressing bullyin in the workplace is often the nature of the strategies of the bully, eg, what Hirigoyen call perverse communication strategies, sarcasm is an example of it, i think of it as trowing the stone and taking away the hand, you can not asertain the intention, and if challenge it is deniad and the victim blame as oversensitive, another cultural issue that facilite bulling is the fact that in Australia friendlines is value over directnes, so communicationg conflict is sanitase as difference and or misunderstandings, in order to adress the broader legislative issues we need to understand the dinamic of what constitute bullying.

  8. This is indeed a serious issue within workplaces on a global level. It is the covert behaviour that occurs in bullying that is the most difficult to pinpoint - am I being bullied or am I 'just imagining it'. This is moreso for those people who are perhaps are less self-confident. And, as Erica stated, when people do defend themselves, they are perceived as being overly sensitive. If workplaces have an ingrained conflict and bullying culture, the strongest tend to survive, particularly when teams fracture and sides are taken.

    In terms of whose responsibility it is? I believe workplaces as a whole (on every level) are responsible for ensuring that bullying doesn't occur. But what happens when the bully is the boss?? Many people weigh up the costs and benefits of confronting the boss, often to realise(sometimes too late) that the costs are too high. A win/lose situation can eventuate, especially when supervision (typically behind closed doors and therefore no witnesses) is used as a method of bullying. Leaving the workplace then becomes the only option for the target.
    In addressing bullying, I agree that education needs to start with the young - they need to clearly understand what constitutes bullying and how to solve conflict in appropriate ways. But I also think we need to consider where bullying in children emanates from - if this is what they see at home as a 'normal' way of dealing with conflict, maintaining power, and perhaps 'saving face', how do we counter that?

  9. An excellent point Erica...What does constitute bullying?

    To our knowledge there is no one universal definition of bullying. Research indicates that many organisations develop their own version. Therein lies the conflict as each version of bullying is open to misrepresentation and is therefore often hard to prove. However, we believe the following definition provides an in-depth view of what constitutes bullying (as a guide only).
    “Bullying at work means harassing, offending, socially excluding someone or negatively affecting someone’s work tasks. In order for the label of bullying (or mobbing) to be applied to a particular activity, interaction or process it has to occur repeatedly and regularly (e.g. weekly) and over a period of time (e.g. about six months). Bullying is an accelerated process in the course of which the person confronted ends up in an inferior position and becomes the target of systematic negative social acts. A conflict cannot be called bullying if the incident is an isolated event or if two parties of approximately equal “strength” are in conflict” (Einarsen, Hoel, Vartia 2003 p,103).

  10. I believe you hit the nail on the head, Deb...How do we counteract it, especially in the home?

    A starting point is to not allow bullying to be pushed back under the carpet. The key is to keep talking, rallying and campaigning to continue raising awareness about bullying and its associated consequences.

    Second, a national anti bullying campaign implemented throughout our primary and secondary schools (delivered a class at a time) would also be beneficial. (To note: the government has started a task force to investigate the bullying policies within schools).

    Third, campaigning extensively within the media and perhaps implementing an anti bullying section within parent programs such as positive parenting.

    Forth, petition the government to change legislation to include bullying in its own right as opposed to having it under the heading of harassment.

    The sad reality that bullying may never stop, as power is known to be one of the driving forces behind nearly all bullying tactics, unfortunately, many thrive on power.

    However, bullying can be reduced no longer ignoring or band aiding the problem. The above ideas represent only a few solutions to combating this growing epidemic.

    Are there any others?

  11. The sooner bullying is taken seriously the sooner we will start edging towards real resolutions to the problems. I think a dormant beast has been awakened and it take some time to solve the problem, I am happy the ball is rolling , and look forward to it gaining momentum .

  12. Hello fellow bloggers,
    We would like to say thanks to you for taking the time to offer us your support and insights.
    The more people share their stories the more the voice of community can inform our advocacy against workplace bullying. We have so far discovered there are many forms of bullying, mobbing and violation of human rights in the work environment.
    We have also identified that bullying is not identified in any legislation and that bullying fits within the harassment legislative area.
    Another thing that comes to mind as we have been reading about ways of addressing bullying and mobbing behaviour is that we need to get to the core drivers.
    In many cases people us power over activities to gain status. Our wondering includes questions i.e. what is the underpinning need to gain status/power over another/others? What comes to mind is low self-worth, self-esteem, vulnerability to others perception of personal power etc.
    Some thoughts that come to mind are about personal internal power, win-win responses to disagreement and negotiation, that positional power encompasses- compassion, empathy, duty of care, accountability and responsibility.
    Work environments could hold senior personnel accountable.
    Governments could change legislation that supports responsible organisational structures.
    The survivor or victim would have avenues of support within the social structures of society.
    Fairness and equity come to mind here.
    We would love to hear from you, your thoughts and your experiences- not only when you have not been supported but hopefully when you have been supported and protected from bullying behaviour.