Definition of Bullying in Australia

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The issue of bullying has emerged as a significant problem for individuals in a variety of settings. In past generations, children might encounter bullying in the schoolyard or playground, but today, electronic communications have made the experience of being bullied more widespread. Both children and adults are likely to be bullied through social media sites and even through texts on their own cell phones. The issue of bullying in the workplace has also come to prominence, as individuals come forward with their stories of harassment, ridicule and unreasonable demands in work settings.  A clear understanding of the definition of bullying helps the public to understand the extent of the problem and what measures can be taken to provide effective solutions.

What Is the Definition of Bullying?

Bullying is defined as the deliberate use of words or actions against an individual or a group for the purpose of causing distress and risk to their well being. Bullying is an abuse of power over others, using physical, verbal or social influence over an individual or a group to hurt them and make them feel powerless. With the use of this definition bullying can be experienced in a variety of settings, either directly, with other people watching it, or covertly, in secret where others cannot see it occur.

Definition of Cyber Bullying

Internet and phone technologies have also allowed cyber bullying to occur, that is, the use of these technologies to repeatedly cause mental or emotional distress to others. For example, a cyber bullying definition would include of technology, such as texts, instant messages, social media or other means, to threaten an individual or group, spread lies or rumors, ridicule them to others or encourage ostracizing them. Cyber bullying can occur in regard to school, work or any other interaction in society. The constant harassment and injury to self-esteem has been the cause of a number of cases of suicide, which highlights the importance of this issue.

Definition of Workplace Bullying

In 2012, the Australian legislature put together a working definition of workplace bullying, determining that it is “the repeated, unreasonable actions in the context of work, that cause a risk to peoples’ health and safety.” Bullying in the workplace can cause immeasurable stress to people of all ages who are trying to provide an income for themselves, and often, for their families. The definition of bullying in the workplace includes:

  • Changing work schedules to make it deliberately hard for the employee to function
  • Ridiculing an employee or making fun of ethnicity, family, race, sexuality, gender identity, educational background or economic background
  • Withholding information necessary to do the work effectively or refusing to delegate needed authority to the employee
  • Verbal abuse, such as shouting, making threats, or isolating the employee from others
  • Physical abuse of any kind
  • Unreasonable criticism that is not part of managing work duties or performance
  • Performing offensive or abusive acts in front of the employee, or behind his or her back
  • Accusations involving sarcasm or innuendo to belittle the employee
  • Preventing access to needed tools, materials or areas to effectively perform tasks
  • Setting deadlines that can’t reasonably be met or imposing unreasonable pressure
  • Deliberately disrupting work tasks
  • Arbitrary enforcement of rules against the employee
  • Monitoring work excessively
  • Failure to acknowledge good performance

Australia Takes Action Against Bullying

Aware of the instances of bullying in the workplace and the serious effect it has on workplace productivity, as well as the health and well being of workers, the Australian government has taken an active role in stopping this behavior. In January of 2014, the Fair Work Commission was given authority to deal with complaints of bullying in the workplace. In addition, additional responsibility has been placed on organizations to stop workplace bullying:

  • Organisations should have protocols in place to handle bullying complaints, and provide an understandable workplace bullying definition.
  • Their policies and procedures must include methods to handle social media or cyber bullying, including providing an effective cyber bullying definition.
  • They should train managers, supervisors and staff to prevent bullying claims.
  • Staff should be trained in what constitutes bullying behavior.
  • Implement appropriate measures to investigate, process, monitor and manage outcomes.
  • Ensure that employees clearly understand the protocol for filing complains of bullying and harassment.

Effects of Bullying in the Workplace

The definition of bullying makes it clear that the intention is to cause distress to the victim. In terms of the workplace, the bullying definition implies a number of significant effects that impact not only the employee, but the organization, as well:

  • Bullying affects the worker’s ability to do his or her job effectively, causing losses in productivity.
  • Bullying can affect workers’ health, causing increased amounts of sick pay, medical costs and loss of organizational effectiveness.
  • Bullying in an organization can cause high turnover that affects profits.
  • Bullying damages the organizations morale.
  • Bullying can cause legal liability to the organization. Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe and bullying-free workplace.
  • Bullying can damage the organisation’s brand, staff effectiveness and motivation.

What Employees Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying

Both organizations and employees have a responsibility to protect themselves against workplace bullying. Even bystanders who are not directly involved in the bullying activity have an important role to play. Employees can do their part in stopping bullying by:

  • Approach the bully and voice your objection to the behavior.
  • Modify your behavior, if possible.
  • Keep a diary of bullying incidences.
  • Seek mediation, if available.
  • Utilize the channels available for reporting acts of bullying, whether to the human resources department of your company or other designated channels.
  • Contact your union or other employee assistance organization.
  • Consult an attorney, if you feel the organization is doing nothing to protect your interests.
  • If you are a witness to workplace bullying, take note of the actions and offer to act as a witness.

Organisations That Work To Stop Workplace Bullying

  • Bully Zero Australia Foundation – An organization that works to raise awareness of bullying, both at school and in workplace, and to create a zero tolerance policy against bullying in all facets of Australian life.
  • The Fair Work Commission
  • The Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
  • Australian Human Rights Commission
  • State Work Safe Agencies
  • Work Cover Advisory Service
  • Federal privacy commissioner

Bullying in the workplace can have a negative effect on employee productivity and the effectiveness of the organisation as a whole. Educating yourself on the definition of bullying and its effects on the workplace can help to eliminate this kind of behavior. The responsibility for stopping the behavior belongs to everyone to help preserve a safe and effective workplace for all parties.

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