Poor management the biggest factor in workplace bullying

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Sunday, 18 September, 2022 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

Organisational structures, and not individuals, are to blame for workplace bullying, which affects 10 per cent of employees, according to research from the University of South Australia.

In a paper published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, lead author UniSA Professor Michelle Tuckey and colleagues from the Centre for Workplace Excellence, the University of Queensland and Auburn University in the US said “poor management practices” are the root cause of bullying.

They analysed 342 real-life bullying complaints lodged with SafeWork SA, 60 per cent of them from female employees.

The highest number of complaints were from health and community services, property and business, and the retail sector. The complaints revealed the risk areas for bullying in organisations.

“Workplace bullying predominantly shows up in how people are managed,” Tuckey said.

“Managing work performance, co-ordinating working hours and entitlements, and shaping workplace relationships are key areas that organisations need to focus on.

“It can be tempting to see bullying as a behavioural problem between individuals, but the evidence suggests that bullying actually reflects structural risks in the organisations themselves.”

The major organisational risks have now been identified and built into a screening tool that has been validated in a hospital setting.

The researchers said that existing strategies, such as anti-bullying policies, bullying awareness training, incident reporting and investigating complaints, focus on behaviour between individuals and overlook workplace structures.

“Workplace bullying undermines the functioning of employees and organisations alike. It leads to mental health problems, post-traumatic stress symptoms, emotional exhaustion, poor job satisfaction, high staff turnover, low productivity, sleep problems and even suicide risks,” Tuckey said.

“To prevent bullying, organisations must proactively assess and mitigate the underlying risk factors, like other systematic risk management processes. Only then will an organisation thrive.”