Bullying in the workplace: how a culture of aggression or harassment destroys productivity

A culture of bullying can have debilitating effects on the productivity of a workplace and the damage can takes years to unwind.

One serious example emerged recently in a hospital in Victoria. A Health and Community Services Union investigation revealed that for over 10 years, the hospital had been subject to a ‘toxic culture’ of bullying and harassment.

As well as working significant overtime without pay, staff said they were under-supported and felt under valued by the organisation, also describing the management style of staff as “autocratic, directive and critical”.

The consequences of such behaviour were evident in the interviews given by staff, who reported a negative impact on work and social life, negative ramifications for the quality of patient care, and a shocking 100% turnover of staff in one sector of the hospital.

Unfortunately, workplace bullying is an ongoing problem in many Australian workplaces. Bullying can include aggressive or intimidating conduct, belittling or humiliating comments, spreading malicious rumours, or unreasonable work expectations.

When a workplace is subject to a culture of bullying, whereby such behaviour is so widespread or has been present for so long it becomes normalised, it can become a systemic problem that is very difficult to change.

If this type of issue is identified within your organisation, what avenues are available to help you address it and move forward?

It’s important to note that workplace bullying is now subject to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), meaning aggrieved parties (your employees) can submit an application to the Fair Work Commission for intervention. In considering a case, the commission will decide whether to try to help the parties involved resolve their problems without court intervention.

If a bullying case does go to a hearing, the Fair Work Commission can make an order it considers appropriate to bring bullying to an end. While the Fair Work Commission will not impose penalties or fines in a ruling on a bullying case, if bullying continues after an order has been imposed, courts can impose substantial fines on parties responsible.

With such laws in place, let alone the negative consequences bullying clearly has for any workplace, it becomes incumbent on all workplaces to ensure they act immediately upon receiving a complaint of bullying. Probably the most important step that can be made is to educate all staff, management, and upper management on what exactly constitutes bullying, and how and why it is inappropriate in the workplace.

iHR Australia offers a range of comprehensive training programs that can help to improve the culture of your workplace. As the largest independent provider of anti-bullying, harassment, discrimination and EEO training across Australia, our Anti Discrimination and Bullying training programs address relevant state and federal legislation, individual and leadership behaviour, workplace culture and the impact they have on compliance, performance and brand.

Our training does more than inform about lawful behaviour – it identifies workplace behaviour and practices that best reflect organisational values, it helps create positive workplace environments, and it seeks to increase motivation and staff engagement. iHR Australia’s training programs can be delivered in a range of modes: public, in-house, eLearning or blended learning.