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Why bullying and harassment occur

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Why bullying and harassment occur

From a post by HR daily:

Two new reports shine a light on the prevalence of workplace bullying, the work climates that foster it, and its impact on absenteeism and productivity.

The first Safe Work Australia report is based on results from the 2014–15 Australian Workplace Barometer project, which involved interviews with more than 4,200 employees from across the country.

The research found nearly one in 10 employees have been bullied at work – a "sizeable increase since 2009–11, where seven per cent of Australian workers reported they experienced workplace bullying".

Almost half (44.8%) of these workers experienced bullying at least once a week. 

And one-third (34%) had been bullied for more than a year. 

In 62.3 per cent of cases, the bully was the worker's supervisor; the next most prevalent bullying perpetrators were co-workers (28%).

Being sworn or yelled at was the most common form of harassment (37.2%), and those forms of bullying also had the greatest impact on depression and productivity respectively. 

Women were more likely than men to experience bullying, physical assault or threats, unwanted sexual advances, and unfair treatment because of their gender, while men were significantly more likely to be sworn or yelled at, the report notes.

Factors that foster bullying

High psychological and emotional job demands were related to higher levels of bullying, while an increase in job resources, such as supervisor support and job control, was associated with a decrease in bullying, according to the report.

It says the research provides strong support for the 'psychosocial safety climate (PSC) hypothesis', which is that a "lack of managerial regard for workplace psychological health and safety leads to poor quality work and in turn bullying and harassment".

A workplace's PSC encompasses its policies, practices and procedures for protecting workers' health, and "largely reflects senior management commitment and support for stress prevention, and a priority of regard for worker psychological health in the context of productivity imperatives", the report says.

The impact of low PSC

A second Safe Work Australia report based on the Barometer findings examines the PSC links to workplace costs, productivity, presenteeism and absenteeism.

With previous research showing psychologically healthy workplaces produce a return on investment of $2.30 for every $1 spent, it's important for organisations to improve PSC, the report says.

"Potential psychological health outcomes that PSC may influence include depression, psychological distress, and engagement," it notes.

Workers in low-PSC workplaces take 43 per cent more sick leave per month and cost $1,887 more per year due to absenteeism and presenteeism compared to those in high-PSC environments. They also have 72 per cent higher performance loss at work.

Employees with severe depression take 20 times more sick days per month and cost, on average, between $2,791 per year (for mild depression) and $23,143 per year (for severe depression) more in absenteeism and presenteeism than those without depression.

Further, these workers had 270 per cent higher performance loss.

The study found workers with psychological distress took four times as many sick days per month; had 154 per cent higher performance loss at work; and cost on average $6,309 per year (for mild to severe psychological distress) more in sickness absence and presenteeism than those without psychological distress.

Employees with low engagement levels took 12 and 46 per cent more sick days than those with high and medium-high engagement respectively, cost on average $4,594 per year, and averaged 8.1 per cent greater performance loss, it shows.

"We estimate that a medium-sized business with 100 employees and poor PSC could expect to save over $180,000 per year in lost productivity by improving [its] organisation to meet high PSC benchmarks."

How to improve PSC

The bullying and harassment report says employers can take a number of steps to tackle bullying and improve their PSC.

"Workplace interventions to improve PSC should focus on establishing systems to enable upwards and downwards communication about bullying and harassment, and enable participation of all levels of the organisation in monitoring, establishing controls, awareness raising, education and training on matters relevant to bullying, harassment, and risk factors," it says.

Employers should also:

  • prioritise and communicate good work health and safety policies, practices and procedures;
  • make a "notable effort" to create jobs with manageable work demands;
  • ensure workplace policies outline acceptable behaviour and how to address bullying and harassment if it does occur; and
  • monitor their PSC as a leading indicator of bullying and harassment risks.

Importantly, as managers and supervisors are most commonly perceived as the source of workplace bullying, employers should "provide education and training regarding appropriate supervisory behaviours, particularly in relation to managing the performance of employees", the report says.

Bullying and Harassment in Australian Workplaces: Results from the Australian Workplace Barometer 2014/15, Safe Work Australia, November 2016

Psychosocial Safety Climate and Better Productivity in Australian Workplaces: Costs, Productivity, Presenteeism, Absenteeism, Safe Work Australia, November 2016

See a preview of Barringtons Prevention of Workplace Bullying Training here.

Blayne Webb, Director, Barringtons

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