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What does workplace bullying look like?

Bullies may be associated with schoolyard playgrounds and classrooms, but unfortunately they don't disappear after people graduate and enter the workforce.

In fact, workplace bullying is shockingly prevalent, particularly in Australia. Although it might not involve older boys muscling their way to steal a youngster's lunch, this phenomenon can be just as brutal and has serious consequences for both organisations and their workers. 

The first step to addressing workplace bullying is knowing how to recognise it. What kind of behaviour falls into this classification, and what does it mean for your employee induction practices

Does your organisation have a problem with bullying? 

Workplace bullying is an especially concerning and common issue in Australia. Multiple studies have ranked the country as one of the worst in the world for bullying.

For instance, in September 2014, Maureen Dollard, a University of South Australia researcher for the Australian Workplace Barometer project*, placed the country sixth in the world for the workplace bullying. 

"The research found that bullying and violence rates in Australian workplaces are very high, with seven per cent of Australian workers reporting being bullied in the past six months," Ms Dollard said. 

Similarly, Safe Work Australia** found the country's bullying rates significantly higher than international levels in February 2013. Although the government implemented legislation aimed at curbing the issue in January 2014, Ms Dollard's research demonstrates that additional measures are necessary to improve Aussie workplaces. 

Within the professional landscape, bullying can take a variety of forms, ranging from explicit physical or verbal assaults to more subtle psychological abuse and sexual harassment. The Australian Human Rights Commission*** offered the following examples: 

  • Verbal or physical abuse 
  • Screaming or yelling 
  • Isolating, excluding or intimidating individuals
  • Asking workers to do meaningless, unrelated jobs
  • Assigning unachievable tasks 
  • Purposefully inconveniencing or burdening specific team members 

Such behaviours can also be carried out over digital platforms, including on social media sites or through email correspondences.  

What can you do to prevent acts of bullying in the workplace? 

Whether or not your enterprise has an ongoing issue with bullying, taking steps to improve company culture is an important part of managing a business. Not only are bullies damaging to employees' wellbeing, they can also have a? negative economic impact on the company. These costs manifest through lawsuits, absenteeism, lower productivity and more. 

In addition to ensuring workers know their legal rights, organisation leaders should implement strong policies and develop an environment where employees are physically, psychologically and social comfortable. 

"Procedures and policies need to sit within a strong climate of safety including psychosocial safety, where there is an explicit commitment to mental health at work at all levels and areas of the organisation," urged Ms Dollard. 

Part of this effort includes sufficient work health and safety training, including as a part of onboarding new hires. 

WorkPro, an employee screening and induction specialist, offers a free Workplace Bullying ebook to help you take a proactive approach to prevent and manage workplace bullying.

*University of South Australia, "Australians: some of the world's worst bullies at work". 

**Safe Work Australia, "The Australian Workplace Barometer: Report on Psychological Safety Climate and Worker Health in Australia".

***Australian Human Rights Commission, "Good practice, good business: Eliminating discrimination and harassment from your workplace".

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