Bullying and harassment in the workplace can not only cause detrimental physical and psychological health problems for employees, it can also greatly effect job performance and a business’s bottom line (Gordon 2020). While there are obvious forms of bullying including physical and psychological, there can be more subtle and indirect forms of bullying such as deliberate exclusion of someone from work-related activities (Safe Work Australia 2020).
Regardless of its form, businesses have 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 Workplace Health and Safety laws (Safe Work Australia 2020). Taking steps to prevent bullying from occurring in the workplace and responding quickly if it does is the best way to deal with workplace bullying (Safe Work Australia 2020).
What is workplace bullying?
According to Safe Work Australia, “workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety (as it may affect the mental and physical health of workers)” (Safe Work Australia 2020). Unreasonable behaviour includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening (Fair Work Ombudsman 2020).
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.
Risks to the worker
The effects of workplace bullying can be all consuming for victims as they often don’t confine themselves to the workplace and can cause physical and psychological health problems, including:
- Higher blood pressure
- Panic attacks
- Trouble sleeping
- Ulcers (Gordon 2020).
Effect on work performance
Workers who are experiencing bullying can become so preoccupied with their situation that they lose their ability to work or concentrate because they’re trying to avoid the bully, trying to defend themselves, or ruminating about the situation (Gordon 2020). These outcomes may adversely impact the workplace in the form of workers taking sick leave and being less productive, both of which damage productivity (Safe Work Australia 2020). Other performance issues can include:
- A loss of self-esteem
- Having trouble making decisions
- Lower productivity (Gordon 2020).
Risk to the employer
Workplace bullying has detrimental effects on employers by creating a hostile work environment, impacting worker morale, promoting absenteeism and ultimately reducing productivity (Gordon 2020). Other effects on the employer can include:
- Increased risk of costly legal action
- Increased use of sick leave, health care claims and staff turnover
- Additional costs to recruit and train new employees
- Poor public image and negative publicity (Gordon 2020).
Why prevent workplace bullying?
A report on the psychosocial safety climate and worker health in Australia (The Australian Workplace Barometer 2016), found that workers with psychological distress took four times as many sick days per month and had a 154% higher performance loss at work than those not experiencing psychological distress. This equates to an average cost of $6,309 per annum in comparison with those not experiencing psychological distress.
Therefore it is in the best interests of employers to 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, and act upon them (Safe Work Australia 2020).
Australian Workplace Barometer Report: Psychosocial safety climate and worker health Australia, 2016 – https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/australian-workplace-barometer-report-psychosocial-safety-climate-and-worker-health-australia
Fair Work Ombudsman: Bullying & Harassment – https://www.fairwork.gov.au/employee-entitlements/bullying-and-harassment
Gordon, S. 2020. The Effects of Workplace Bullying –https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-the-effects-of-workplace-bullying-460628
Safe Work Australia 2020: Bullying – https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/bullying