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How to respond to workplace bullying

When considering your organisation’s workplace health and safety policies, it can be easy to focus on the most visible dangers – risk of injury or illness to your workers – and neglect some of the easily overlooked issues. Workplace bullying is one such concern, an issue that Safe Work Australia’s Workplace Barometer found was occurring in this country at rates substantially higher than the international average.

A 2012 study from the Productivity Commission estimated that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion every year, a wide range likely representative of the fact that so many incidents go unreported. To address the issue, organisations need to ensure it is treated seriously and with empathy, and spend time outlining policies in the workplace health and safety induction phase.

Identifying workplace bullying

Research from mental health advocacy group beyondblue found that 73 per cent of Australian workers had taken leave due to depression and anxiety, conditions commonly associated with workplace bullying. Employers are advised to pay close attention to any members of their team taking regular or extended leave, and subtly monitor their interactions with colleagues – of course showing all the compassion required.

Harassment in the office can take many forms, but the Fair Work Ombudsman outlines the following examples of bullying behaviour:

  • Aggressive behaviour.
  • Jokes or teasing at the expense of others.
  • Pressuring others into inappropriate behaviour.
  • Exclusion from work-related social events.
  • Making unreasonable work demands.

Should any of the above behaviours seem to be present in your office, perhaps it’s time to conduct further investigation into workplace bullying. So, what should your next step be?

How will you handle bullying in your workplace?
How will you handle bullying in your workplace?

Handling allegations of workplace bullying

Whether brought to your attention by an employee or noticed on your own, all potential incidents of workplace bullying need to be addressed quickly and comprehensively. Safe Work Australia suggests interim measures should be taken to minimise the risk to health or safety – such as temporarily reassigning tasks to keep the parties involved separated while further inquiries are made.

Having a clear understanding of the situation is essential before any further measures are taken. Speaking to the people directly involved is the best course of action, however it’s possible they will be reluctant to discuss the issue, so seek out close colleagues who may also be concerned.

A safe working environment is obviously best for everyone, so outlining clear workplace bullying policies is an essential element of employee onboarding and WHS induction. Ongoing bullying awareness and prevention training should also be considered, reinforcing compliance with policy and procedures and ensuring all members of the organisation are protected.

The best defence against workplace bullying is employers who know what they’re looking for and how to handle it. Take the time today to make sure your policies are up to the task.

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