Workplace bullying can be defined as repeated or persistent unreasonable behaviour(s) which is directed at an employee or a group of employees and creates a risk to the mental or physical health and safety of these employees.
Unreasonable behaviour refers to behaviour which could be construed as victimising, undermining or threatening and which a reasonable person, under the circumstances, would consider unreasonable behaviour.
Bullying can be direct, indirect, be directed at both employees and employers and can occur face-to-face, over the phone, or via technology such as video conferencing, email, text messages, social media etc.
- Abusing, insulting or offensive language
- Spreading misinformation or malicious rumours
- Behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades.
- Displaying offensive material
- Teasing or regularly making someone the brunt of pranks and practical jokes
- Inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance, lifestyle or their family
- Interfering with a person’s personal property or work equipment
- Harmful or offensive initiation practises (hazing)
- Unreasonably overloading a person with work or not providing enough work
- Setting timelines that are difficult to achieve or constantly changing deadlines
- Setting tasks that are unreasonably beyond or below a person’s skill level
- Deliberately excluding, isolating or marginalising a person from normal work activities
- Withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
- Deliberately denying access to information, consultation or resources
- Deliberately changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to inconvenience a particular worker or workers
- Unfair treatment in relation to workplace entitlements such as leave or training
WHAT IS NOT CONSIDERED BULLYING?
- Single Incidents: In order for it to be considered bullying, the offence must be repeated. Nonetheless, if a single incident or behaviour is offensive, discriminatory or could be considered harassment, it should still be reported and responded to.
- Reasonable Management Actions: Legitimate and reasonable management actions such as setting reasonable performance goals, deadlines, allocating tasks and providing warnings for underperformance or misconduct is not bullying.
THE COSTS OF BULLYING
Workplace bullying can affect many, if not all, parts of an organisation including finance, health and safety, employee turnover, and productivity.
Legal/ investigative service costs associated with workplace bullying can be very high. It is highly recommended that all reports of bullying are investigated in order to reduce the chances of those involved making legal claims against the organisation. But bullying investigations are extremely time consuming if conducted internally and can be expensive if external consultants are involved.
Organisational costs are associated with workplace bullying as HR and management staff are often required to refrain from their day-to-day jobs in order to investigate and handle workplace bullying complaints. If workplace bullying is a frequent occurrence is an organisation, employee turnover may be high, which costs the organisation for additional job advertisements, interviewing, training etc.
Costs to individuals as a result of workplace bullying can include physical and mental health being affected, job loss or psychological harm. Victims, witnesses and people who might not be directly involved with the workplace bullying can all be affected in different ways.
HOW TO PREVENT BULLYING IN THE WORKPLACE
In order to prevent bullying in the workplace, a positive work culture should be created, and management should endeavour to promote this across all parts of the organisation. Staff generally look up to and follow in the footsteps of management teams, therefore, if management isn’t promoting and modelling an anti-bullying culture, staff may feel that dealing with bullying is a low priority or that bullying behaviour is tolerated. Management teams should emphasise acceptable behaviour and lead by example. This includes dealing swiftly and decisively with all complaints of bullying, even those that are made informally.
- Having regular team meetings to discuss the desired workplace culture and the behaviours expected from all employees;
- Promoting and showing understanding of differences within the workplace such as life experiences and backgrounds;
- Have guest speakers at team meetings to promote your anti-bullying culture and discuss how to resolve potential issues;
- Have clear policies and procedures surrounding bullying.
HOW TO HANDLE A BULLYING COMPLAINT
If a manager or HR team member becomes aware of a case of potential bullying within the workplace, they should act promptly and not hesitate to start an investigation, whether internal or through an external consultant.
It is important that employees do not experience further victimisation when coming forward to report bullying within the workplace. To this end, steps should be taken, early on, to protect the worker from the alleged perpetrator until the facts of the matter are investigated. This might mean suspending the alleged perpetrator pending the outcome of an investigation, or putting in place, work arrangements that will minimise the potential for further victimisation.