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Connexus : Issue 36
Facing up to bullies Bullying at work is so pervasive, even the experts can have trouble spotting it. By Carolyn Boyd W orkplace bullies can be high-achieving managers and their victims can be silent sufferers – but that only means employers need to be all the more v igilant. In New South Wales, WorkCover is the agency charged with investigating allegations of bullying. When PricewaterhouseCoopers looked into concerns about bullying at one arm of WorkCover, it found that 40 per cent of staff felt they had been bullied or harassed at work. It most commonly occurred in the form of “nit-picking, unjustified criticisms or inequitable treatment”, said PWC’s report. Bullying and harassment is a major workplace problem. At the office of the Queensland Workplace Rights Ombudsman (QWRO), it was the fourth most significant primary issue raised by callers last year. In many other calls, it was raised as a secondary issue. Victims can suffer stress, depression, lower productivity or irreversible psychological harm, says the QWRO. Witnesses can also be affected, and, like the direct victims, may quit their jobs. Most businesses have policies about bullying and harassment, but many fail to follow them and often blame the victim. The QWRO cites a company where a supervisor was accused of being a bully in eight separate complaints over two years. Each time, the complainants were investigated for some or other alleged deficiency in their work while the apparent bully was never dealt with. The business had clear bullying and harassment policies as well as methods to ensure staff were aware of them. “The theory was excellent, the practice poor. This seems not uncommon,” said the QWRO in a report last year. SPREADING MISINFORMATION “Bullies can be very clever,” s ays workplace investigator Harriet Stacey, of Wise Investigations. They often craft an image of their victim as a poor worker when, in reality, they may have been Workplace bullying is the repeated less-favourable treatment of a person by another or others in the workplace, according to Victoria Legal Aid. “Bullying is persistent unwelcome behaviour, mostly using unwarranted or invalid criticism, faultfinding, exclusion or isolation,” it says. “Instances can include behaviour that intimidates, offends, degrades or humiliates a worker.” connexus www.abacus.org.au 52 PEOPLE