Bullying: advice you can use

Bullying is probably our most prevalent workplace hazard so it’s good to see the new health and safety agency, WorkSafe, publishing practical guidelines on ways to deal with it.

BullyingNew Zealand research shows that about one in five employees have been bullied at work. It’s a recognised problem in the public sector and rife in health. In one study, 90 percent of nursing students said they’d experienced bullying.

The consequences can include debilitating stress and mental illness for the victim and significant financial costs for the organisation. In Australia, it’s estimated that workplace bullying is costing more than $6 billion in lost productivity.

The guidelines are WorkSafe’s first publication, a signal that the agency sees workplace bullying as a significant health and safety issue that employers have a responsibility to fix or risk being in breach of the law.

It’s straightforward practical advice to help both employees and employers on ways to resolve problems with bullying as quickly as possible. You can get a printed copy for your workplace, or download a pdf. And there are online tools to help you assess behaviours and workplace culture.  

Jeena Murphy, a PSA member and senior adviser on standards at WorkSafe, was part of the team that developed the guidelines. It involved extensive consultation with unions and employees, employers, managers and health and safety reps, she says.

“They all said the same thing. They wanted a definition, they wanted clear concise guidance, they wanted to know how to make the workplace safe and healthy, and they wanted stuff around problem solving.”

Jeena Murphy

Jeena Murphy, PSA member and senior advisor at Worksafe

She is confident the guidelines have delivered on these expectations. “People can fast track in to the guidance really quickly with the tools on the website. Even people with literacy issues can look at the flow charts and work out what they can do.

“And for the first time, we have a clear definition of bullying and I think that’s going to help. Until now, people have found it difficult to work out what is and what isn’t workplace bullying.”

Definition: Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

Key to the definition is that the behaviour is both unreasonable and repeated. A one-off occurrence of someone shouting at you probably isn’t bullying.

“Unreasonable” clearly covers verbal abuse, among other behaviours, but it may also cover demands around tasks, what’s called institutional bullying. These might be unmanageable workloads or, to cite a specific example, bank tellers in Christchurch still expected to meet their targets after the earthquakes.

For employees who think they are being bullied, the first advice is to keep a record of the behaviour and then do something about it as soon as possible, says Jeena.

“Don’t leave it. If you’re not sure if it’s bullying, have a look at our tools and you’ll get a good idea of what the behaviour is that you’re experiencing. Try a low-key solution before the things get out of hand. We give examples of what other people have done to repair the workplace relationship.”

But the ideal situation is to create a workplace culture that doesn’t tolerate bullying behaviour, she says. “People don’t act in a vacuum. Some organisations are clear about how we deal with each other in a respectful manner. But in others, it’s just about getting the work out of the door. People under stress don’t always take as much time to think about how they’re behaving.”

Jeena says the guidelines can help bring about change in these types of workplace. “I think the kit is going to be a great tool for people, both employers and employees, who want to influence a change of behaviour. It will be helpful all round.”


Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying: best practice guidelines.

Published by WorkSafe New Zealand

Phone 0800 030 040 for a printed copy

http://www.business.govt.nz/worksafe/tools-resources/bullying-prevention-tools for a pdf and online tools


This article is from the March 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.