In Bullying Cases

A Guide to Dealing with Workplace Bullying in Australia

workplace bullying

The Definition of Workplace Bullying in Australia

Bullying in the workplace has been rightly defined as being the continual abuse of power by one or more individuals against one or more individuals. Even so, it should noted that not all bullies are bosses and not all victims are underlings. It is not uncommon for colleagues to bully other colleagues.

Bullying in the Workplace Examples

Workplace bullying manifests itself in different ways. Verbal bullying, which is one of the most common manifestations, includes:

  • Swearing
  • Gossiping
  • Yelling
  • Teasing
  • Mean jokes
  • Jokes or comments of a sexual nature
  • Slurs and insults based on race, background, religion or gender

While these forms of bullying should not be taken for granted, there are other, more serious forms of bullying that include:

  • Exclusion
  • Micromanagement
  • Not providing what an underling or colleague needs to do his or her job
  • Blackmail
  • Harassment
  • Mean notes, emails, phone calls and/or text messages
  • Unrealistic workload
  • Too light a workload (in an attempt to make someone become bored and unfulfilled and thus quit)
  • Sabotage
  • False accusations

In its most serious form, workplace bullying is manifested in the form of physical violence. While such manifestations are not as common as the forms of workplace bullying outlined above, they do occur and can cause serious, permanent injury or even death.

Is Bullying in the Workplace Australia Common?

Unfortunately, bullying and harassment in the workplace are very commonplace. In fact, a Safe Work Australia Report recently found that workplace bullying in Australia statistics are higher than those of other countries (based on a survey that does not include bullying in the workplace Qld or Vic statistics).

On average, up to 20% of workers are bullied in the workplace. However, in some industries this figure rises up to nearly 100%. Health care workers, welfare workers, those who work in fields related to education and individuals working for government and semi-government services are more likely to be bullied than those in other occupations.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has noted that bullying in the workplace in Australia costs businesses and government organizations up to AU$36 billion per year. This figure factors in the cost of lost business opportunities, absenteeism, turnover in the workplace, loss of productivity and legal costs.

How to Deal with Bullying in the Workplace

First of all, you will want to define what is bullying in the workplace. Doing so can be more challenging than it may seem. Some manifestations of bullying outlined above can (and frequently are) behaviours that are also manifested by people who are not necessarily bullies.

Micromanagement, for instance, is a common management flaw and many managers micromanage their workers without the intention of acting like a bully. This same problem applies to issues such as being given too much work or not enough work. A colleague may yell or swear at you; however, if this is a rare occurrence rather than a day to day problem, the issue at stake may not be bullying. Instead, the person involved may be stressed due to work or personal problems.

A bully is, simply put, a person who torments, bothers or harasses others or personal pleasure and enjoyment. If you work with a person who fits this definition, then you have a problem with workplace bullying. A bully will, generally speaking, engage in bullying on a regular rather than one or two time basis.

Following are some strategies for dealing with bullying in the workplace NSW, WA, Qld and/or any other part of the country.

Boost Your Self Esteem

You may not be able to control a bully’s words and/or actions but you can control your own response to them. The first step in being able to do so is to boost your own self-esteem so that you can handle bullying in a calm, rational manner.

Bullying arises for many reasons; however, the fault lies with the bully, not with you. If your work is faulty in some way, correct it; however, do not automatically assume that you have done something wrong because a co-worker or boss is verbally or physically harassing you.

Know your strong points and weak points. If you are not able to handle a particular project, say so from the start. If you need more training in a particular area, find a way to get this training either at work or in your free time.

Most importantly, know that you are worth treating with respect and dignity simply because you are a unique human being. Never let a bully’s behaviour make you forget this fact.

Talk to the Bully

There are some instances where talking to a bully is not a good idea. On the other hand, there are also times when communicating with a bully can bring an end to the bullying problem. As was noted above, there are many reasons why a person engages in bullying behaviour and it may be possible to learn how to work out differences without having to put up with bullying. If nothing else, you can make it clear that you find the bully’s behaviour unacceptable and will report it if it continues.

Gather Evidence

If you are being bullied on a regular basis, gather evidence of the fact. This includes not only writing down when, how and why bullying incidents occur but also talking to others in the office and asking them if they are willing to back up your accounts. Chances are other co-workers will back you up if the bully has been harassing them as well.

Talk to a Superior

Once you have gathered evidence, talk to a superior about the issue. If you are being bullied by a colleague, then talking to your immediate boss can be a good idea. If the boss is doing the bullying, talk to his or her boss. There are also cases when talking to your human resource manager is the best option. Find the person who you feel has the authority to help you and will be willing to listen to what you have to say.

Present your problem in a clear, unemotional manner. Explain what has happened, present your evidence and then allow your boss to determine the best way to solve the problem. Your boss may suggest that you (or your tormenter) move to a different department or he or she may opt to solve the problem right there. In serious cases, the bully may be fired; however, you should not automatically count on this happening, nor should you suggest this course of action to the person you are talking with.

Take into account that it may take some time for your supervisor or manager to take care of the problem. The person you talked to may not be able to act on his or her own; it could take time to fire, transfer or talk with the individual in question and/or the individual may be given another change and decide to continue his or her behaviour.

Is Changing Jobs a Good Idea?

As was noted above, bullying in the workplace WA, Qld, NSW, Victoria and other states is a very common occurrence, especially for those who work in certain industries. You will want to take this fact into account when deciding whether or not to quit your job, as changing jobs is no guarantee that you will no longer have to deal with one or more workplace bullies. In fact, as the old saying goes, you may find yourself jumping from the frying pan into the fire if your new workplace has a worse bullying problem than your original one.

Having said that, you should not discount the option of changing jobs if the bullying problem in your present workplace is not resolved within a reasonable amount of time. Take the following factors into consideration when making your decision:

  • Do you have other job options?
  • What do you know about your other job options? For instance, if there is a job opportunity at a friend’s workplace, what can your friend tell you about the work environment? Does the company you are considering working for have an anti-bullying policy and if so, what is it?
  • Do you have the savings required to quit work and then look for a job, or even to start your own company if you need to or have decided that this is the best option?
  • Are there contractual obligations you need to fulfil before quitting your job?
  • What would quitting your job look like on your resume? If the office bully is your immediate supervisor, you may find it difficult to get a letter of recommendation and/or any other papers you need or want to facilitate your search for a new job.
  • Is your present job affecting your health and/or your family life? If the bullying is affecting your ability to eat well, sleep at night, spend time with your family and/or is causing you undue stress and hardship, then quitting your job may very well be your best option and one that you should take as soon as possible.

In Summary

Workplace bullying is, unfortunately, a common problem in the Australian workplace. No matter which state you live in or what line of work you pursue (unless, of course, you opt to be self-employed), you are likely to encounter one or more workplace bullies in the course of your career. Being aware of this fact from the start can enable you to put in place winning strategies that will enable you to deal with workplace bullying as well as know when it is time to leave a job in pursuit of another one.

To start with, have a look at your self-esteem. Know your strengths, weaknesses, skills and talents. You will never be perfect but this does not mean that you are stupid, dumb or anything else a bully may call you, no matter who this bully is or how often the names are used. If you have a strong sense of self-esteem, you will be better able to withstand bullying and lead a healthy life.

Know the basics of how to deal with a workplace bully. Try to find out why a bully is picking on you, talk with the bully and see if there are ways in which you can work together in a healthy, productive manner. However, if this does not work, make it clear to the bully that you will report inappropriate behaviour if it continues.

The next steps are to gather evidence and then report the problem to a competent supervisor. Once you have done so, allow time for the supervisor to try to work things out.

If all else fails, consider whether it may be a good idea to change jobs. Changing jobs may not completely solve a bullying issue, but in many cases it can.

While your work does not define who you are, it does take up a large part of your life. Never simply put up with a bullying problem, as there are ways to deal with such issues in a productive, healthy manner. Determine the best course of action to take and then take action to ensure that you are able to work and function in a productive, harassment free environment.

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