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COVID-19 Hasn’t Stopped Workplace Bullying

Over the course of the 2010s, workplace bullying and harassment nearly doubled in Australia. And though COVID-19 might have cleared out many physical office spaces, there’s no reason to believe that the pandemic made a dent in the workplace bullying issue. Instead, the heightened anxiety from the pandemic might have made workplace bullying more subtle and difficult to respond to.

Recommendations for preventing workplace bullying

It starts with language. Employers might know the colloquial definition of workplace bullying, but do they understand the law.

Well, according to Australia’s Fair Work Act, workplace bullying constitutes repeated unreasonable behaviour that creates risk to an employee’s health and safety.

It is that risk that creates legal risk for employers who are responsible for ensuring safe and healthy workplaces for their employees. Examples of workplace behaviours that put employers afoul of the law:

  • Yelling, screaming, or offensive language
  • Excluding or isolating employees
  • Psychological harassment
  • Intimidation
  • Assigning meaningless tasks unrelated to the job
  • Giving employees impossible jobs
  • Deliberately changing work rosters to inconvenience particular employees
  • Undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information vital for effective work performance
  • Constant unconstructive criticism and/or nit-picking
  • Suppression of ideas
  • Overloading a person with work or allowing insufficient time for completion and criticising the employees work in relation to this

Download Preventing Bullying in the Workplace Guide

Workplace bullying rarely occurs in isolation

Of course, it’s simply not enough to know what to look for. Bullying rarely occurs in isolation. In fact, workplace bullying is typically symptomatic of wider organisational factors.

As such, employers as well as deputised HR and Safety leaders will need to be on the lookout for the specific factors likeliest to enable bullying cultures to develop. The factors to monitor include:

  • Working hours
  • How entitlements are coordinated
  • Performance management
  • Clear roles and allocated tasks and workloads
  • Sufficient training
  • Career opportunities
  • How performance is monitored and appraised
  • How environment and relationships are developed in the office
  • Mental health culture 

Develop a mentally healthy workplace to stamp out workplace bullying

Among those factors, mental health stands out. Indeed, developing a mentally healthy workplace helps to prevent the emergence of workplace bullying. But how to get started?

Here, it’s helpful to develop practices and values that align with the attributes of mentally healthy workplaces. According to the research, the attributes include:

  • Job design. Demands of the job, control in the work environment, resources provided, the level of work engagement, the characteristics of the job, and potential exposure to trauma.
  • Team/group factors. Support from colleagues and managers, the quality of interpersonal relationships, effective leadership, and the availability of manager training.
  • Organisational factors. Changes to the organisation, support from the organisation, recognising and rewarding work, how justice is perceived in an organisation, a psychosocial safety climate, positive organisational climate, and a safe physical environment.
  • Home/work conflict. The degree to which conflicting demands from home, including significant life events, interfere with work.
  • Individual biopsychosocial factors. Genetics, personality, early life events, cognitive and behavioural patterns, mental health history, lifestyle factors and coping style.

Senior leadership must also be involved and committed to supporting the necessary mental health and wellbeing programs that would make a meaningful dent in workplace bullying in an effort to improve mental health and productivity in the workplace.

To find out what other strategies you can use, download our Guide to Preventing and Responding to Bullying in the Workplace:

Download Preventing Bullying in the Workplace Guide