How much is workplace bullying costing you? It could be up to $36 billion every year

Christine Holgate

Former Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate appears before a Senate inquiry. Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas.

Like many of you, I felt very saddened by the recent events that unfolded between Christine Holgate, the Australia Post board and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

I was also immensely impressed by her strength and fortitude in facing the inquiry into the whole complex scenario. I watched all 5+ hours of the Senate inquiry to really understand the detail and the position of all involved.

And I couldn’t stop thinking about one word that kept repeating: bullying.

Workplace bullying

The Australian Human Rights Commission states that everyone has the right to work in an environment free from bullying, harassment, discrimination and violence. Under Occupational Health and Safety Acts, employers and employees have a legal responsibility to comply with any measures that promote health and safety in the workplace.

Because of this duty, employers need to eliminate or reduce the risks to employees’ health and safety caused by workplace bullying.

The consequences of failing to do so can be devastating for the individual being bullied. Effects will vary, but often include one or more of the following:

  • Distress, anxiety, panic attacks or sleep disturbance;
  • Physical illness, for example muscular tension, headaches, fatigue and digestive problems;
  • Loss of self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • Feelings of isolation;
  • Deteriorating relationships with colleagues, family and friends;
  • Negative impact on work performance, concentration and decision making ability;
  • Depression; and
  • Thoughts of suicide.

It’s also worth noting that there is a huge cost to the business, because people who are bullied — even if the behaviour is reported, called out and dealt with — will rarely want to remain in their job. The estimated cost to replace a star performer are:

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Not to mention the cost to reputation and legal costs if the matter escalates to a lawsuit. Because there’s no getting away from the fact that as a business owner, it is your legal obligation to not only prevent, but to deal with bullying in the workplace.

A recent impact and cost assessment reported by the Australian Human Rights Commission calculated that workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6–$36 billion dollars every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered.

It starts with leadership, but it’s everyone’s responsibility

Demonstrated senior management commitment in identifying, preventing and responding to workplace bullying is one of the key factors for preventing unreasonable behaviour and managing psychological risks.

Effective leaders model their organisation’s values and standards for workplace behaviour through their own conduct. This can send a clear message to workers that the organisation is serious about preventing workplace bullying and contribute to a positive workplace culture where unreasonable behaviour is not tolerated.

Managers can demonstrate commitment in various ways including by:

  • Modelling respectful behaviours at all times;
  • Developing and implementing a bullying policy that clearly identifies the expected behaviours and consequences of not complying;
  • Dealing with unreasonable behaviour as soon as they become aware of it;
  • Ensuring that reports of bullying are taken seriously and properly investigated; and
  • Consulting with workers.

By 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.

Have you seen this behaviour or been a victim of it? I’d like to hear the consequences and outcomes. What has worked for you in terms of prevention or cultural change? If we can share our experiences, particularly from those of you who feel you have got it right, we can learn from each other and help end this terrible scourge of our workplaces.

This article was first published on LinkedIn.

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