Workplace bullying can come in all shapes and sizes and frequently workers will claim bullying arising from repeated indirect behaviours such as:
- deliberately or maliciously overloading a person with work or not providing enough work;
- unreasonably setting timelines that are difficult to achieve or constantly changing deadlines;
- setting tasks that are unreasonably below or beyond a person’s skill level;
- deliberately excluding, isolating or marginalising a person from normal work activities, e.g. excluding a worker from meetings or functions that everyone else attends;
- withholding information that is vital for effective work performance;
- deliberately denying access to information, consultation or resources;
- deliberately changing work arrangements such as rosters and leave to inconvenience a particular worker or workers; and
- unfair treatment in relation to accessing workplace entitlements, e.g. leave or training.
As well as creating a health and safety risk, these behaviours can result in costs to your business through:
- increased absenteeism;
- reduced productivity;
- high staff turnover; and
- legal ramifications.
Legal ramifications can include:
- penalties for breaching health and safety legislation;
- claims under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth);
- prosecution under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) – in Victoria; and
- claims for workers’ compensation or negligence.
A bullying situation may also breach other laws including anti-discrimination, anti-vilification and equal opportunity legislation.
How to determine if indirect bullying is a problem
To help you identify whether bullying is a problem in your workplace, you should do the following:
- Talk to your workers to find out if bullying is occurring or if there are unreasonable behaviours or situations likely to increase the risk of bullying. If your workers seem hesitant to talk, you can try using anonymous methods to obtain information, e.g. anonymous surveys or a suggestion box.
- Monitor patterns of absenteeism, sick leave, staff turnover, grievances, injury reports and other such records to establish any regular patterns or sudden unexplained changes that could indicate that there is a bullying problem in your workplace.
- Keep an eye out for any changes in relationships between workers, customers and managers.
- Seek feedback when workers leave the business by holding exit interviews.
- Seek feedback about workplace behaviours from managers and supervisors, or any other relevant parties.
- Consider ways to make reporting bullying easy for those who may not wish to discuss the situation with those connected with the business or who want to remain anonymous, e.g. using a whistle-blower hotline service so that workers can report bullying to a party not associated with the business.
- Importantly, you should watch out for what may appear to be good-natured joking, or teasing of young, vulnerable workers, particularly if several people are involved.
You may be seeing only a small part of a broader bullying campaign.