Workplace bullying more than an individual issue

Joan Lemaire
Senior Vice President

Schools bullying report shows one in four victimised.

Focusing only on the behaviour of individuals will not effectively address workplace bullying.

The public sector representatives from unions, including Federation, on the Public Service Commission’s Bullying Roundtable have argued that only focusing on individual workers’ behaviour in individual workplaces will not prevent or effectively control bullying behaviour. The union representatives have pointed out that organisational and resource issues on an agency level can contribute to pressure and stress on workplaces which can result in negative behaviour and work environments.

Michelle Tuckey, Sergio Chrisopoulos and Maureen Dollard from the University of South Australia conducted research on the link between exposure to harassment and the demands on resources available to police constables and sergeants. Their “findings suggest that harassment within policing may have its genesis in lack of task-specific resources — in particular, concrete resources such as budget, time, personnel, vehicles, equipment and training”. The shortage of resources can create “competition and conflict, which may escalate into a pattern of repeated negative interpersonal behaviors that forms the basis of harassment”.

The Public Service Commission conducts a People Matter Employee Survey every two years. The 2014 agency report for NSW public schools has revealed that 24 per cent of respondents indicated that they had been subjected to bullying in the past 12 months, with 43 per cent of respondents indicating they had witnessed bullying during that time. Bullying included behaviours such as mistreatment, devaluing work efforts, ignoring or isolating individuals, being negative, withholding information, giving individuals a lot of work and undermining individuals.

The survey received a high proportion of positive responses to questions about support from other members of the worker’s workgroup, good team spirit and the worker’s understanding of what was expected of them to do well in their role. However, only 54 per cent of respondents indicated their workload was acceptable, 53 per cent felt their job was secure, 68 per cent said they had the tools they needed to do their job effectively, 60 per cent were able to keep their stress at an acceptable level and 47 per cent indicated that change was handled well by the organisation (the Department).

Disturbingly the survey also revealed that although 82 per cent of respondents were aware of the ways to resolve grievances only 20 per cent of the respondents who reported they had been bullied made a formal complaint. Only 55 per cent of all respondents reported they had confidence in the way their organisation resolves grievances.

The Public Service Commission recently released a guide for public sector employees Behaving Ethically: A guide for NSW government sector employees which sets out individual employee responsibilities for personal conduct including bullying, which states:

“Bullying is not tolerated in NSW government sector workplaces. You are required to treat members of the public, customers and colleagues fairly and with courtesy and respect. If you are bullied by anyone, or you witness bullying, it is important that you report it immediately so that it can be stopped. Refer to your agency’s policies and procedures on how the report should be made and to whom.”

The Federation, working with the other unions on the Bullying Roundtable, will continue to focus on the need for effective strategies to prevent and control workplace bullying. This will require looking at organisational risk factors including system or agency level demands on individual workplaces and individuals, and resources available to workplaces and workers to meet these demands.

It will also require a review of existing measures and policies aimed at preventing and controlling the risks associated with workplace bullying as well as procedures for dealing with and responding to complaints. Bullying is a work health and safety hazard which requires a risk management approach.