It’s easy to turn a blind eye as a manager to situations such as workplace bullying, but you cannot afford to let your employees , or yourself experience these types of situations at work. Here is some interested findings, research and tips to help you as a manager become more aware of this issue.
Noteworthy examples of workplace bullying have included:
- A mechanic suffered stomach cramps after a co-worker put fuel in his morning coffee.
- An employer forced a finance consultant to write nightly reports, only to rip them up in front of him each day.
- A woman continually received threats to have her ‘pack-raped, videotaped, and uploaded on the Web’.
- A teacher was ‘subjected to physical attack annually, verbal abuse daily, sexual harassment weekly, and property theft regularly’.
- A country-based female police officer, out of favour with her boss, was told to escort a body across the state.
- Health workers were clocked by supervisors when they went to the toilet, then accused of time-wasting.
- A young apprentice mechanic was stood naked in a box all day.
- A public servant received 95 e-mails in a day from her supervisor demanding details of a budget she did not know she had to prepare.
In 1999, the Australian Institute of Management calculated that, for a fictitious company of 100 employees, the cost of workplace bullying, which is not managed, could be in excess of $A600,000. The costs related to such issues as sick leave, absenteeism, turnover, compensation, loss of productivity and organisational property costs, surveys, training, coaching, and recruitment.
Carolyn Barker, ‘Economic impact of bullying in the workplace’, in Workplace Bullying, Workplace Consulting Queensland, Brisbane, 1999.
In 1996, a UNISON study of 761 people in the UK local government and health sectors found that…
- 14% were bullied in any 6-month period.
- 34% of this group had been bullied for three or more years.
- 73% of those who were not directly involved in the bullying, but witnessed it, experienced stress as a result.
- 26% of respondents who had previously been bullied had left their job because of the bullying.
According to Robyn Mann, in ‘Bullying: From backyard to boardroom’, workplace bullies believe they have a right to exercise their control over others, perhaps because they had suffered at an earlier age in their career. She writes:
‘Once they are in a position to dominate others, they take the opportunity to make others suffer as they once did. Abusers devalue the strengths, abilities, competencies, intelligence and integrity of others, because to acknowledge these qualities as ‘good’ is to damage their own, already low, self-esteem. In a work situation, abusers use their positions to exaggerate or fabricate weaknesses in others to cover up their own inadequacies and insecurities in the job.’
Workplace bullies cost billions
According to research by Griffith University’s school of management, workplace bullies cost Australian employers up to $A36 billion a year. The researchers estimate that up to 15% of the Australian workforce is subject to bullying, but most employers ignore the problem. Bullying included bad-mouthing, exclusion, sarcasm, screaming, swearing and offensive nicknames. Costs were associated with sick and stress leave, staff turnover, cost of legal advice, court and tribunal action, compensation, redundancy payouts, and loss productivity costs.
‘We argue $A36 billion is actually a conservative figure because we are not able to estimate the cost of bullying outside the workplace,’ says researcher Dr Michael Sheehan. ‘A lot of people who experience bullying report broken marriages, difficulties with their children, property settlements… it sets off a whole cycle.’
Sunday Mail, Brisbane, 2 September 2001.
Bosses liable for bullying
Employers could be legally liable for acts of bullying, abuse and violence committed by one employee towards another if they did not move to assess the risk of workplace violence and prevent it.
According to a workplace security report by the Australian Institute of Criminology in 2000, workplace violence should be taken as seriously as any other occupational health and safety issue. It recommended that bosses should formally record all cases of workplace abuse, threats and bullying, and conduct regular staff surveys to identify security risks; and warned that highly competitive environments and a rigid, hierarchical management style increased the risk of violent outbursts.
Bullying – the whistleblower’s fear
The Queensland Whistleblower Study identified levels and types of bullying behaviour reported by whistleblowers:
Experienced by 71% of respondents: deliberate, punitive responses veiled behind policy and procedure to avoid charges of illegality. These included selective redundancy, poor performance reviews, formal reprimands, punitive transfers, compulsory referrals to psychiatrists or other professionals, demotion, suspension, dismissal.
Experienced by 94% of respondents: offensive but subtle, ambigious or deniable workplace interactions. These included ostracism, spreading of rumours, quiestioned motives and personal attack, close scrutiny of work, abuse by colleagues, physical isolation, overwork, underwork.
Paul McCarthy et al, Bullying: From backyard to boardroom, Millennium Books, Alexandria NSW, 1996.
Women can be bullies too
Women, when they have the power, are as likely to bully as men, and may bully men as well as other women.
A bank clerk, reported ‘The Guardian’ in September 1998, was awarded £5000 on grounds of sex discrimination after being bullied by a young female manager. The manager humiliated him by:
- insisting that he mop the floor
- regularly patronising and speaking rudely to him
- constantly watching him in a critical way.
In judgement, the Employment Tribunal inferred that the woman saw the assertive young man as some sort of threat to her authority.