03:09 pm, Monday 25 February, 2013
The last few years has seen a dramatic increase of bullying allegations, some real and others that are mainly unsubstantiated.
What this means though for business is that regardless of the substance of an allegation there is a process that must be followed which has an associated cost.
Experts in mental health are saying, according to a report on the weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald, that the spin-off from this trend is that there has been an increase in what is referred to as “bogus” claims.
These are aimed at employers who automatically end up on the defensive because of a lack of appropriate advice and training.
Increasing awareness about bullying
Claims of bullying, especially cases that are high profile and attract media attention, have increased the general awareness about workplace bullying.
However, according to organisational psychologist Peter Cotton, this doesn’t mean that the level of understanding has also increased.
Dr Cotton works in advisory roles for Comcare, WorkSafe Victoria, beyondblue and large private insurance companies so he sees and manages workplace bullying in a number of different contexts.
He said that he sees statistics from a number of different areas that all point to a remarkable increase in the reporting of bullying over the last few years and that the current challenge is that a portion of this increase is due to “frivolous” reporting.
Dr Cotton said that people are using the term bullying to cover any type of work discontent and it is difficult to separate the seriously genuine cases so that both workplaces and individuals can be held accountable for their behaviours.
An organisational psychologist from the FBG Group Simon Brown-Greaves said that FBG were experiencing a significant increase in people and businesses looking for advice as well as support on bullying.
He said that it looks like it may be the new catch-cry that people use for compensation, there are genuine cases of workers experiencing bullying in their workplaces but others are seeing bullying as a way to deal with circumstances that are challenging.
Mr Brown-Greaves said that bullying is now a term that is overused and that some are taking advantage, bullying is being used to cover a number of different behaviours in the workplace such as rudeness and impolite communication.
The difficulty is the subjective nature of bullying and no accepted definition however the federal government announced that it would soon adopt a national definition to standardise what is considered to be bullying.
WorkSafe Victoria said that ”workplace bullying is characterised by persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety”.
Bullying in the workplace is covered with the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Victoria and it is considered a breach of the act ”when an employer or another person at work has failed in their duty to maintain a safe environment for others”.
Ian Forsyth the WorkSafe health and safety executive director said that it is a personal issue that involves emotion and as a result a number of challenges must be addressed to ensure that the response to allegations of bullying is appropriate.
He said that simply feeling upset, undervalued or dissatisfied and dealing with poor management practices doesn’t necessarily mean that bullying is taking place.
The cost of bullying
Thirty prosecutions by WorkSafe have been successful for bullying since 1999 even though there have been more than 5000 calls to the advisory service related to bullying in the last few years.
The reason is that only a few of the complainants were able to give detailed allegations so that the complaints could be followed up in court.
Richard Clancy, the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI), said that all employers should have procedures in place in case of bullying allegations as employers are increasingly facing bullying allegations after they have raised legitimate performance concerns with workers.
He said that, ”Workplace bullying is currently covered by OHS laws and while not specifically defined, bullying-type behaviour is generally characterised as a pattern of negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to his or her health and safety.”
Mr Clancy said that whilst employees may encounter a single incident of inappropriate management this is not necessarily considered workplace bullying even though it is an unpleasant experience.
He said that if a bullying complaint is lodged employers and managers must investigate the claim, which takes both time and money. Some complaints are serious and legitimate however there are many that do not have substance and do not constitute bullying.
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