Workplace bullying faced by a third of Australians, but awareness of rights is on the rise

A third of Australians believe they have been bullied in the workplace, as awareness levels of workplace rights have jumped 7% in the past 12 months.

A survey of more than 5500 people by employment screening specialist WorkPro found 73% of people are aware when their rights have been breached as a result of bullying or discrimination.

The number of Australians who believe they have been bullied at work has increased by 5% in the past two years, but WorkPro general manager Tania Evans told SmartCompany this is likely to be because people are more comfortable talking about the issue.

“I don’t think the actual number of people being bullied has changed significantly, but with more media attention and increased education, people feel more comfortable to talk about it and they also have a greater understanding,” she says.

“This survey has been done for the past four years and for three of those years there has been almost no difference in awareness levels. The first year there were many reports about people who didn’t understand bullying in the workplace and there was no change for three years, but this year more people are talking about it, and it’s become more transparent, so the results weren’t surprising.”

Forty-eight per cent of respondents also reported witnessing a colleague being bullied in the workplace.

But despite the improvements in awareness, 27% of people still said they were unsure whether or not their rights had been breached.

Evans says workplace managers need to ensure workplace bullying is treated seriously and is documented.

“Where management is concerned, all comments or reports need to be taken seriously. Also make sure there are always two people in the room and that the information is recorded and documented formally,” she says.

“From an employee’s perspective, they want to feel like they’re being supported and that proper due diligence is being conducted around the report.”

Eighty-five per cent of respondents said all employees should have mandatory anti-bullying and anti-discrimination training prior to commencing employment.

Evans says this is both feasible and necessary to combat the high rates of bullying and discrimination.

“It’s now a very mature working environment with the harmonisation laws and the bullying laws being nationalised and there should be a responsibility to deliver a consistent message around appropriate behaviour in the workplace and how people can be supported,” she says.

“It’s not hard to deliver consistent information in this current age, and it can be tweaked to meet the requirements of different industries.”

Higher numbers of people are now participating in anti-bullying and discrimination programs in their workplaces, with 44% of respondents saying they’d been involved in such a program in their previous workplace.

The respondents were from a mix of backgrounds, ranging from unskilled workers, some with limited English, to corporate executives. They were selected from a group of people applying for work through recruitment agencies in October and November 2013.

Earlier this year it was announced the Fair Work Commission has been given $21.4 million to crack down on workplace bullying.

The survey found 69% of people worry about offending others in the workplace because of their gender, disability or distinctive attributes, varying from always to rarely.

Evans says this is a reflection of some “real social sensitivities”.

“I find times have changed, everyone is socially sensitive now to how things can be construed… people are worried about what they can and can’t do,” she says.


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