Workplace Bullying, its Effects, and What You Can Do About It
What is Bullying?
Bullying can be defined as any behaviour that threatens another person’s safety. Bullying can be done mentally, physically and socially. It can happen in any social situation. When it happens at your own business, your bottom line could be affected.
Workplace bullying can happen to anyone. It may take the form of sexual harassment, insulting comments, passive aggressiveness, giving you demeaning or unnecessary tasks to embarrass you or prevent you from doing your job, or humiliating you. A recent study by the Australian Council of Trade Unions suggests that over half of employees in a union environment experience oppression, abusive language or intimidation at their work places.
Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace
When one person is being bullied in the workplace, everyone suffers. Harassment of any form makes the workplace an undesirable place to be. Employees who dread their work environment are going to be less productive, less enthusiastic about team-oriented tasks, and take more sick days than employees who enjoy coming to work every day. The Australian Productivity Commission estimates that workplace bullying costs businesses an astounding $10 billion per year.
The Effects of Workplace Bullying
The effects of bullying extend far beyond sick days and loss of productivity. Managers who turn a blind eye to bullying because they want to avoid conflict, have befriended the bully, or simply don’t care demonstrate incompetent leadership. It can also reflect poorly on the entire organisation. Indeed, setting a precedent for abusive behaviour in the workplace makes it acceptable for others to follow suit.
Companies that turn a blind eye or minimise the severity of bullying are treading in dangerous territory. They may lose valuable staff members with unique skill sets due to the unpleasant working environment. Once word spreads that workplace bullying is acceptable at your company, you may receive fewer and fewer quality applications.
Examples of Bullying in the Workplace
Bullying at work can only continue for so long. It only takes one brave employee to take legal action against you. One café in Melbourne was hit with a heavy fine after ignoring complaints of workplace bullying. Not only did the company get fined $220,000, but the individual manager was fined an additional $30,000. A former executive at SignTel Optus recently sued the company for $14.5 million after she was victimised by bullies at work. Depending on the size of your company and its net worth, such a fine could put you out of business.
Legal action can also indirectly hurt your bottom line. If your company is sued and the case draws media attention, your reputation as a business person will be tarnished. Customers do not want to do business with someone who treats their employees poorly.
Workplace Bullying – What You Can Do
So what can you do, as a manager or supervisor, to prevent workplace bullying? Encouraging open communication and being supportive is a good start. Of course, bullying may occur when you are out of earshot. Be approachable. Give your employees an opportunity to speak their mind during their quarterly review. Ask them if there is anything that prevents them from doing the best job possible.
Take complaints seriously. If you are told about an incident of bullying, ensure the victimised employee that you will be investigating the matter.
- Examine the work environment and office procedures to determine whether they increase the possibility of workplace bullying.
- Consult with everyone who may be affected by the bully.
- Implement strategies to minimise the victim’s exposure to the bully (for example, have them work on different projects or move furniture around so they aren’t able to stare at each other).
- Set guidelines on what appropriate behaviour in the workplace is and demand that all staff follow them.
- Implement and enforce disciplinary actions for those who violate the policies.
- Providing EAP counselling support for the victim, and if appropriate for the bully also
- Finally, follow up with the victimised employee to ensure that the situation has improved for them.
Workplace bullying is not just management’s responsibility, it’s everyone’s. If you hear a co-worker harassing a fellow co-worker and say nothing about it, you are only encouraging the bully. Nip it in the bud by speaking up for the victim and reporting the incident to your boss.
Joanna Fishman is a director of Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney Pty. Ltd and a regular contributor to their website. ACPS is a leading provider of EAP services in the Greater Sydney area and also provides a general counselling and relationship therapy service working with Sydney psychologists and counsellors to support clients with their emotional care.
Oops! We could not locate your form.