Workplace bullying reflects structural risks present in organizations

Published: Wednesday, 07 September 2022 09:13

Workplace bullying costs global employers billions of dollars every year in absenteeism, stress leave, and lost productivity. It also points to  structural risks present in organizations, says a new research paper.

In a paper published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, lead author University of South Australia Professor Michelle Tuckey and colleagues from the Centre for Workplace Excellence,  the University of Queensland and Auburn University in the United States offer a new way of tackling bullying at work.

The researchers analysed 342 real-life bullying complaints lodged with SafeWork SA, 60 percent of them from female employees. The highest number of complaints were from health and community services, property and business, and the retail sector. The complaints revealed the risk areas for bullying in organizations.

Building on the analysis, the researchers have developed an evidence-based screening tool that identifies nine major risk areas for workplace bullying embedded in day-to-day practices, putting the onus on organizations to address the problem.

“Workplace bullying predominantly shows up in how people are managed,” Prof Tuckey says:

“Managing work performance, co-ordinating working hours and entitlements, and shaping workplace relationships are key areas that organizations need to focus on.

“It can be tempting to see bullying as a behavioural problem between individuals, but the evidence suggests that bullying actually reflects structural risks in the organizations themselves.”

The structural organizational risks have been built into the screening tool, that has been validated in a hospital setting.

“The tool predicts both individual-level and team-level workplace bullying risks that jeopardise the psychological health of employees,” Prof Tuckey says.

The researchers say that existing strategies, such as anti-bullying policies, bullying awareness training, incident reporting and investigating complaints, focus on behaviour between individuals and overlook workplace structures.

“Workplace bullying undermines the functioning of employees and organizations alike. It leads to mental health problems, post-traumatic stress symptoms, emotional exhaustion, poor job satisfaction, high staff turnover, low productivity, sleep problems and even suicide risks.

“To prevent bullying, organizations must proactively assess and mitigate the underlying risk factors, like other systematic risk management processes. Only then will an organization thrive,” Prof Tuckey says.

Read the paper.

A video explaining the research is available at: https://youtu.be/flvt3ZZrL8k