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Bullying and Harassment

Many workers are embarrassed and defamed at the hands of cyberbullies, says Dr Felicity Lawrence from Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Dr Lawrence surveyed more than 600 public sector workers nationally and found 72 per cent had reported experiencing or observing cyberbullying over the past six months. Also, 74 per cent of those surveyed ranked their workplace as highly stressful, she said in a media statement.

Some of those surveyed had received aggressive and bullying emails, YouTube videos or social media posts from colleagues and clients who didn’t like decisions they had made that affected them, Dr Lawrence added.

“The public servants I surveyed indicated there’s a kind of ‘cyber-underground’ that has created a hidden negative online workplace culture where some employees feel they are free to harass and bully one another and yet remain unaccountable for their behaviour,” Dr Lawrence said.

The costs of cyberbullying are high. “The implications of this research are critical for Australian organisations looking to grow into the future,” Dr Lawrence said. “Traditional workplace bullying costs the national economy up to $36 billion each year, so the cost of cyberbullying [for] productivity could be profound.”

For more details, visit QUT

Published on 28 January 2016 in the NSCA Foundation Safe-T-Bulletin enewsletter – available free every fortnight direct to your email. Subscribe online today

Bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment are rife among surgeons, according to a recent report from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

“Now that the extent and impact of these issues is clear, there can be no turning back,” said Hon. Rob Knowles AO, Chair, Expert Advisory Group (EAG) on discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment advising the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

“We have been shocked by what we have heard. The time for action has come.”

EAG research has found that 49 per cent of Fellows, trainees and international medical graduates report being subjected to discrimination, bullying or sexual harassment. Bullying is the most frequently reported issue in 71 per cent of hospitals.

Part of the problem is attributed to unhealthy working conditions. There is an expectation that trainees should endure the same work practices that their supervisors had to put up with when they were training.

Some of those surveyed for the research complained of supervisors demanding unpaid overtime to ‘toughen up’ trainees.

Others pointed to grossly inappropriate comments, such as “you can join us in theatre – not to do anything, just for eye candy” and “I was told I would only be considered for a job if I had my tubes tied”.

A key finding of the Discrimination, Bullying and Sexual Harassment Survey was “that ‘known bullies’ are untouchable [by the College/societies and in the workplace] and that bullying has become normalised as a culturally accepted behaviour”.

For more details, visit the EAG report

Published on 24 September 2015 in the NSCA Foundation Safe-T-Bulletin enewsletter – available free every fortnight direct to your email. Subscribe online today.

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has ordered that a manager not work in the same location as two workers to stop the bullying of the workers.

Two workers from the same company lodged separate stop bullying applications to the FWC in June. The FWC decided to hear the applications together.

The workers alleged the manager’s behaviour included belittling conduct; swearing, yelling and use of otherwise inappropriate language; daily interfering and undermining the applicants’ work; physical intimidation and “slamming” of objects on the applicants’ desks; attempts to incite the applicants to victimise other staff members; and threats of violence.

The FWC found that the manager had bullied the workers. Although the manager now works at a different location for a related business, she had been seconded back to the business where the bullying had taken place. But the two victims were off work on workers compensation.

The FWC has ordered that the two workers and the manager not approach each other and that they not attend each other’s business premises. Also, the manager only continues her secondment in the absence of one or both of the applicants being fit to resume work and the employer is responsible for ensuring the safe return to work of the workers.

The employer has also been ordered to establish and implement anti-bullying policies, procedures and training.

The orders remain in force for two years from 15 August.

The identities of all parties remain confidential.

For more details, visit the stop bullying order

Published on 13 August 2015 in the NSCA Foundation Safe-T-Bulletin enewsletter

Joe Moore, conflict resolution expert from Kimber Moore and Associates, speaks with Helen Borger.

Your latest workplace dispute may appear to have the plot line of a short lived soap opera—but if you fail to intervene you could find yourself playing in a long-running drama.

Some managers appear not to worry about the harmful behaviours of others. For them, it seems a relief to hear themselves or others say, “It’s just a personality clash” or “He/she is a bit of a princess” or “It’s just a bit of drama.”

But is this the case? “Surprisingly, one of the ways we start to show some interest in dealing with [harmful behaviour] is by saying things like, ‘Well, you know, it’s just a bit of drama,’” says conflict resolution expert Joe Moore.

So rather than viewing these comments as a cue to ‘exit stage left’, he says they should be seen as a signal to start conversing, to find out what’s going on. “Maybe it’s a bit of an office drama, mate—but what are the pros and cons of doing something about it?”

To those involved, the ‘drama’ is time consuming and anxiety-provoking, Moore says. It can also be a sign of worse to come.

He says managers must ask questions to find out: What behaviours led to someone saying, “This is a bit of a drama”? Who is taking responsibility for it? Is it safe to ignore the drama or is action required? If action is required, start getting the people involved to talk it through with each other.

It is also crucial for a manager to be clear about his or her role in helping to solve the problem. “You’re not taking responsibility for solving what’s going on. You’re taking responsibility for helping people figure it out,” Moore says.

But are managers capable of fulfilling this role? “It is a huge challenge. Most managers get promoted ‘off the tools’ because of their problem-solving ability. But it rarely means problem-solving ability is an expression of how they work with the team to solve problems …”

What tends to happen is that managers rush to find the cause of the issue rather than helping others to solve the problem, Moore says.

“Part of the solution lies in having serious conversations with managers about their roles—‘While you’re busy walking around solving other people’s problems, there are some key things you are not doing as a manager. A manager solving day-to-day operational problems is not being strategic’—and as soon as you make that point, you start to get them to understand,” says Moore.

But what happens when management strategy fuels less-than-optimal behaviour? Climbing the corporate ladder can be competitive, and behaviours such as lobbying and building alliances to get ideas accepted can intensify. “Lobbying and cajoling to get an idea over the line [is a red] flag for a company that has problems with the way decisions are made,” Moore says.

Companies should think about how they transact business within their organisations and ask themselves the following questions: How do we make this decision? What data do we need to make this decision? How will we know if what we decide will get us what we want? What is the review of this going to be?

If the responses to these questions lack clarity and substance, “then the only answer left is politics, in the negative sense, which is the cajoling, wheedling, and running around influencing”, Moore explains. “To dry up that behaviour, the  answer lies in devoting time to getting clear responses.

“Organisations that excel at making decisions understand the important decisions affecting performance. They make the way material decisions are made routine by removing the guesswork from knowing who recommends, who needs to agree, who has the veto power, who should have input, who provides the data, which data is required to help make a decision, and who is accountable for follow-through,” Moore says.

Generally, when it comes to managing harmful behaviour, Moore suggests keeping in mind that such behaviour can take many forms. “You can’t [possibly] have a protocol for [managing] every kind of difficult behaviour,” he says.

Rather, use examples of good behaviour, reward and praise people for doing the right thing, and penalise poor behaviour. “Then you start to create an expectation at work that, when push comes to shove, we want to be able to get along with one another.”

Also address specific behaviour in conversations, Moore says. Avoid giving lectures; build conversations around what happened, the effects, and why getting along is important; and ask for the person’s thoughts. “It’s about what is important, why it is important, and how we can [encourage] healthy relationships,” he says.

Tackling harmful behaviours early is critical, otherwise they can escalate. “It would be very rare for someone to come to work one day and, with no prior warning, [start] to bully,” Moore says, adding, “Minimise the chances of people getting away with behaving [badly] and taking that as an invitation to behave [worse].”

This won’t eradicate all of the worst kinds of behaviours, Moore warns, but you will experience a reduction of them.

In addition, organisational, not just individual, responses are needed to help keep harmful behaviours at bay. This includes, for example, talking about these issues openly and often.

A good place to start is to think about the age-old question: How would you like to be treated?


Download the story in PDF
Embrace Harmful Behaviour (PDF, 200kB)

Published in National Safety magazine,  September-October 2014.

WorkCover NSW should apologise and accept that it has a problem with institutional bullying, says a state parliamentary committee.

In late June, the NSW Parliament’s Legislative Council General Purpose Standing Committee No. 1 handed down the findings of its inquiry into allegations of bullying in WorkCover NSW.

The inquiry was undertaken in response to a NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) finding that the dismissal of WorkCover employee Wayne Butler was “harsh, unreasonable and unjust” and had the “characterisation of institutional bullying”, the parliamentary committee said.

“The IRC described the investigation of Mr Butler as a ‘witch-hunt’ and speculated that it was motivated by ‘malicious intent’.”

The parliamentary committee’s findings describe the content of submissions made to the inquiry as “very disturbing, highlighting the profound impact that workplace bullying has on people’s mental health, self-worth and job performance”.

The committee gives a damning summation of WorkCover’s poor management practices: “The committee was deeply concerned by evidence [of] alleged widespread use of punitive processes, poor management practices, authoritarianism among senior managers, and denial by senior management that a significant problem of bullying exists within the organisation. The lack of trust between management and staff was very apparent to the committee.”

The committee has recommended that the WorkCover NSW executive team “sincerely apologise” to Mr Butler.

It would also like to see the WorkCover NSW executive team and Safety, Return to Work and Support Board do the following.

“[M]ake a public statement that genuinely: accepts that WorkCover, as an organisation, has a significant problem with workplace bullying; apologises to employees for past wrongs, including in respect of Mr Wayne Butler; accepts the findings of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission in respect of Mr Butler; and commits to addressing, at an organisational level, the problem of bullying.”

The committee has made a number of other recommendations as well.

For more details go to the parliamentary report.

Published on 3 July 2014 in NSCA Safe-T-Bulletin.

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