CIO

University of South Australia devises tool to tackle rampant workplace bullying

10 per cent of Australian employees admit to being bullied at work

Australia is home to some of the worst workplace bullying in the developed world, ranked sixth compared to 31 European countries, according to the University of South Australia.

Around 10 per cent of Australian employees admit to being bullied at work - but that number could be much higher since most antisocial workplace behaviour is unreported, according to the university.

Research suggests up to tho-thirds of workers may experience unfair treatment on the job, it noted.

In that vein, the university has developed a new approach to tackling the problem.

Lead researcher, associate professor Michelle Tuckey, said the key to curbing workplace bullying lies in understanding such behaviour can rarely be blamed on isolated individuals.

Researchers have developed a diagnostic and response solution that provides a simple, evidence-based approach to recognising and addressing bullying issues in Australian workplaces, the university said.

“Workplace bullying is often mistaken as a problem between staff members, an interpersonal problem, when evidence shows it’s really a reflection of how the organisation functions,” Tuckey said.

Associate Professor Michelle Tuckey
Associate Professor Michelle Tuckey

“It’s a cultural issue, a systems issue – if you have a healthy culture and healthy systems, then you don't get a lot of bullying, but if you don't have that culture and those systems, bullying is more common.”

Building on six years of research, Tuckey and her team devised a method to help businesses develop cultures that prevent bullying at work.

“We're taking a safety risk management framework and treating bullying as a work health and safety hazard, following the normal risk management approach, which is to identify hazards, assess the level of risk, implement risk controls, and then monitor and evaluate.

“An important feature of our approach is the involvement of staff and managers in each stage.”

The risk management solution was developed after engagement with 342 documented bullying complaints lodged with SafeWork SA and is currently being trialled with peak health and safety bodies to enhance the regulatory response to bullying and to support proactive risk management in a range of other organisations, the university said. 

“We analysed about 5500 pages of information to learn what's going on in the culture and the work systems when people feel mistreated,” Tuckey said. 

“Then we turned that into a survey-based measurement tool with 10 different domains used to deliver a score predictive of a broad range of work health and safety outcomes, including exposure to bullying.”

Tuckey said the cost of bullying at work in Australia is estimated to be $36 billion per year. 

“The diagnostic tool shows an organisation where they should focus their efforts and prioritise their resources,” she said. 

“Many organisations already have policies, training and complaint systems in place; our tool complements those structures to prevent bullying behaviour.”