If you’ve been following the HR Gurus blog, you’ll know that we try to keep an open, conversational tone when discussing HR issues. After all, we’re not here to lecture anybody! Our job is to educate, promote dialogue and, most importantly, offer better ways for you to manage your people.

So this one’s a little different, because we need to talk about a weighty issue. An issue in which there is no place for light-hearted banter. So read on, because this one concerns all of us.

Workplace bullying.

You may roll your eyes, and mutter ‘not this topic again!’, but it’s a serious issue and one that can’t get enough coverage and discussion in our view.

Many people don’t even really know what constitutes bullying. For example, the toilet flushing of an apprentice’s head may seem like a funny  practical joke, but it’s not. Nor is hiding someone’s work phone or laptop, or even swearing.  All of these things can be considered bullying – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If any person in your employ ever feels threatened, humiliated, undermined, victimised or scared at work, there’s cause for concern. Because bullying is determined by how the person felt, not by how it was intended.  To be clear, WorkSafe Victoria defines workplace bullying as: repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed toward an employee, or group of employees, that creates a risk to health and safety.

There is no doubt that bullying is bad for business. In fact, a Productivity Commission in 2010 estimated the cost of workplace bullying to Australian businesses is between $6 billion and $36 billion a year. That’s big bucks! We’re not just talking about lost time or penalties here – think about  the negative impact bullying has on morale, culture and profitability.

But more than this, bullying is now an issue of national significance with the Minister for Employment & Workplace Relations recently launching an inquiry into workplace bullying. This is occurring on the back of the new ‘Brodie’s Law’ which was passed in Victoria last year  – a law Prime Minister Julia Gillard would like to see go national.

You’ll most likely recall the tragic case of Brodie Panlock, who teenager who took her own life in 2006, following months of unrelenting, systematic bullying by her co-workers. You’ll have seen her heartbroken parents who fought to not only see their daughter’s tormentors punished, but to introduce a change to the Crimes Act, which now sees a possible 10 year prison term for convicted bullies.

What you may not realise however, is that Brodie’s employer was also convicted and fined under the Occupational Health & Safety act for failing to take action against the bullies – a move that could have saved Brodie’s life.

As an employer, your responsibilities are pretty clear. At a minimum, you should have the following in place to protect your employees – and your business – from bullying:

  1. A clear, communicated policy on Workplace Bullying – agreed to by all workers as a condition of their employment.
  2. A clear and enforced process for investigating claims and taking action against bullies – swift action and confidentiality is vital.
  3. A process for educating all staff about the dangers of bullying, steps they can take to neutralise bully behaviour and to lodge a complaint.
  4. Training for all managers and supervisors about how to identify issues and deal with complaints.

It goes without saying that practising what you preach is essential! Sadly around 75% of bullying cases are reported against direct managers, so you must take a zero tolerance stance and set high expectations for leaders.

Because bullying takes so many forms, and because each workplace is different, your own policy probably needs to be tailored to your business. So we recommend giving us a call to talk through the issues – we’ll help you to create a workplace that’s free from any kind of bullying.

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