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Workplace Bullying: up to $36BN in lost productivity - and 4 Simple steps to prevention

The Productivity Commission estimates workplace bullying is costing the country $6 billion to $36 billion a year. In May 2012, the Prime Minister launched a national review of bullying in the workplace. Research suggests that as many as 30% of Australian workers experienced bullying in the workplace in the past twelve months. That means this issue is almost certainly costing your business money … Recently a Nurse Ms Toni Hoffman, raised concerns about Mr. Jayant Patel the surgeon now known as ‘Dr Death’. She claimed she was marginalised and nobody took her complaints of workplace bullying seriously until she went to the media. In a recent Financial Review article, Psychologist Evelyn Field suggested, “this is a classic example of how dangerous bullying and organisational dysfunction can be”. As an example, professionals looking at the issue of bullying in the workplace have held the view that bullying occurs due to a power differential existing between people. Research suggests bullying in the workplace was more prevalent at peer-to-peer level and that this is encouraged in organisations by the structures of how success is measured. Linking pay to performance encourages these ‘tournaments’ to be played out between people. Where people’s livelihoods, and lifestyle are linked to performance and KPI’s … then we have tournaments.

4 Simple steps to prevent Workplace Bullying

The biggest barrier to creating a bully-free workplace is that organisations apply different standards of behaviour to people based on whether they are regarded as good or bad performers. Employers should be consistent - and apply a zero-tolerance approach to bullying in the workplace. Here are 4 key tips

Conduct an audit

In response to a federal government review into workplace bullying, employers are encouraged to look at their workplace culture carefully by undertaking regular audits to highlight behavioural issues and ensure risks associated with bullying and harassment are managed effectively.

HR professionals can expect to face resistance to audits from workers and senior leaders, and so need to get buy-in. They need to make clear that a poor culture costs the business money. An audit should include regular staff surveys, - 360 degree reviews to monitor for culture issues. Workers should be asked to describe the culture of the organisation, and what their understanding of the purpose of the organisation is, in terms of mission statements and values.

There should also be more open-ended questions… such as whether staff feel they can make complaints about matters without fear of repercussion. All of these questions are designed to tease out some of the specific cultural issues that the organisation is seeking to address.

Conduct Exit interviews

Employers should also conduct exit interviews with outgoing workers to identify any cultural issues. These are important opportunities to understand why staff are leaving and it’s probably the point at which staff are going to be most candid.

Review and analyse work-leave patterns

Complete a regular analysis and review of work leave patterns, and look into and scrutinise workers who are taking a lot of sick leave, for example. Excessive sick leave and absenteeism in a workforce that would be otherwise considered to be fit and healthy, for example because of its age demographic, is something an organisation will want to look at. Similarly - evaluating the number of staff grievances is extremely important.

Benchmark complaint numbers

If there are increases year to year in the number of complaints, or if there are particular areas of the organisation where they seem to be happening more commonly than elsewhere - then this is a critical indicator.

Other steps employers should take to prevent bullying include: training managers and supervisors to make informal observations about culturally non-compliant behaviour; regularly (once every year or two years) training workers in behaviour and culture; and allocating adequate resources to achieve compliance.

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