There are various definitions of workplace bullying, but for those who are uncertain, it can be described simply as “the repeated, less favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, which may be considered unreasonable and inappropriate workplace practice.”

Now that I’ve got the definition out of the way I’ll scare you a little more.

There would not be a business in Australia that at some stage has not had a workplace bullying incident.

Examples of bullying consists of behaviour that intimidates, degrades or humiliates, includes abuse of power, isolates and alienates employees, or inappropriate comments about an employees appearance, work performance or sexual orientation.

With the details of the new Brodie’s Law now public, and enforceable, employers can now no longer afford to dismiss bullying as playful banter between employees.

The cost of “turning a blind eye” or dismissing the heated conversations about personal issues as “nothing to do with the boss”, is unmeasurable.

Now I am sure that most people have seen movies where at some point, someone is bullied.

Unfortunately to the trained eye there is not a movie goes by that doesn’t contain at least one incidence of bullying.

The fallout from this is that bullying now seems to be somewhat of an accepted part of Australian workplace culture.

Now in dealing with workplace bullying it is crucial to remember 3 simple rules.

  1. Never dismiss any complaint.
  2. Never be afraid to intervene.
  3. Never be afraid to ask for help.

Due to the minefield of legislative obligations that are placed on employers it would seem that any sign of anything remotely resembling disharmony or conflict in the workplace would have you reaching for the panic button right? Well this is simply not the case.

There are a number of simple processes that a business can put in place to minimise the incidents of bullying, and to give them a solid basis from which to deal with any issues that may arise. Such a plan should:

  1. Ensure that all existing, and new employees, are made aware that bullying and harassment is not acceptable, and that there is consequences for their actions should they participate in bullying and harassment incidents.
  2. Ensure that all existing, and new employees, are made aware that at any time they feel as though they have been a victim of tactics that they themselves feel fit the above criteria, then your door, and ears, are always open.
  3. Seek professional independent third party advice before proceeding with any interventions.

The key to effectively dealing with any incident is choosing the right intervention.

Choosing the wrong one could lead you up that other garden path, or up that creek without a paddle.

Bullying in the workplace is not a new behaviour, but it is now widely recognised as being an unacceptable behaviour.

The bullying behaviour may be a result of a number of factors, all of which must be taken into account when dealing with it, and always deal with the issue as being not only an individual, but a workplace issue.

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Comment by Bernard Keith Althofer on September 16, 2011 at 11:41
The word 'bullying' has emotive overtones and in somes, the word 'harassment' has been used.  Today, someone, somewhere will die either physically or psychologically because of some form of inappropriate workplace behaviours. So, if this is the case, why wait until the police or the Division inspectors arrive to conduct an investigation. Workplace bulllying is a complex issue involving complex solutions that can involve recruitment/slection processes, inductions, job/role descriptions, performance management, conflict management and discipline processes to name a few.  Bullying can have a direct and indirect impact on the target/victim, the alleged bully, the organisation, the medical and legal professionals, the family/friends and associates, the investigators and the media. Preparing for the day that you will be involved in a workplace 'bullying' incident starts from day of employment.  Just as the target/victim needs to consider what supporting documentation/evidence they may require to support their claim, the alleged bully should also be considering issues such as Codes of Conduct, employment conditions or agreements.  The organisation should be considering whether or not bullying/harassment is a work health and safety issue or an equity issue. There is always the possibility that an incident will end up in a Court, Commission or Tribunal.  Just as organisations plan for various emergency situations such as fire evacuations, officers should be ensuring that all workers (at all levels) can respond to a workplace bullying incident. Sitting in a Court, Commission or Tribunal trying to justify your actions or even lack thereof might result in adverse comments that could have financial or even jail implications.
Comment by Mandy Geddes on September 16, 2011 at 12:28
Great article Michael. I agree with you that most businesses in Australia would have been affected by bullying incidents at one time or another. One way we work to change a bullying culture in a workplace is to start from the top - leaders are responsible for the office environment and can change the organisation's culture through their behaviour. Bullying may not always be apparent but there are signs managers can look for such as higher rates in absenteeism or high staff turnover. It's not an issue that should be swept under the carpet and managers should feel comfortable in discussing the issue with staff and encouraging a supportive workplace

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