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New research finds many Australians believe they have been bullied at work

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Media Release

Published on

More than one in three Australians believe they have been bullied at work, according to new research by Slater and Gordon lawyers.

The firm recently commissioned independent researchers to survey more than 1000 Australians aged 18-plus, with 34 per cent responding that they had been bullied in the workplace.

The figure was even higher among Victorian respondents at 37 per cent, second only behind Western Australia, where 38 per cent surveyed said they had been victims of workplace bullying. Queensland was also above the national average, with 35 per cent responding that they had been bullied while NSW was below the national average on 31 per cent.

Nationally, female workers were most likely to believe they had been bullied (35 per cent) compared to their male colleagues (33 per cent).

Co-workers were the most common culprits, responsible for 53 per cent of bullying cases, followed by managers (47 per cent) supervisors (36 per cent) and business owners (16 per cent).*

*Respondents were able to nominate multiple culprits

Slater and Gordon lawyer Meghan Hoare said it was important that employers and employees viewed workplace bullying in the same way as any other workplace safety issue.

"The impacts of workplace bullying can be devastating to a person's self esteem and enjoyment of work and can also lead to serious health issues and long-term psychological injuries," Ms Hoare said.

However, she said it was important that workers distinguished between one-off incidents or performance management activities and workplace bullying, which is characterised by persistent and repeated negative behaviour directed at an employee that creates a risk to health and safety.

Ms Hoare said the firm regularly encountered clients who sought help after suffering the damaging impacts of bullying at work.

The research found Victorian males were more likely to believe they had been the victim of workplace bullying (41 per cent) than their female colleagues (34 per cent).

Co-workers were the most common culprits, responsible for 53 per cent of bullying cases, followed by managers (47 per cent), supervisors (36 per cent) and business owners (16 per cent)*.

*Respondents were able to nominate multiple culprits

Survey participants who responded that they had been bullied were asked to identify the behaviours they had experienced that led to that perception, with the most common being regularly being spoken to in a hostile, derogatory or condescending manner (72 per cent).

Other commonly-reported perceived workplace bullying behaviours:

  • Spreading gossip or false or malicious rumours (51 per cent)
  • Abuse based on gender, race, sexuality or religion (31 per cent)

Less common forms of workplace bullying included physical violence or threats of violence (10 per cent) and weight discrimination (4 per cent). Of those who believed they had been bullied, more than one in ten (12 per cent) said they had been sexually harassed at work.

The research was undertaken in January, several weeks before the Federal Government announced it would place workplace bullying on the national policy agenda in response to recommendations made by a House of Representatives committee late last year.

Ms Hoare welcomed the proposed reforms which would include the development of a standard definition for workplace bullying and ensure workers who claim they are victims would have the matter listed with the Fair Work Commission within 15 days of making a complaint.

The survey also highlighted some shortcomings around the knowledge of workplace bullying policies, with nearly half of all respondents (44 per cent) reporting that they were not aware whether their employer had such a policy in place.

Ms Hoare said, without a formal policy on workplace bullying, workers were less likely to report the behaviour and employers were less likely to act on complaints because there is no process in place to deal with them.

"Providing a safe workplace and one that is free from bullying is a responsibility of every employer so it is important that they have the necessary policies in place.