A Safe Work Australia (SWA) report has found levels of bullying in Australian workplaces are substantially higher than international rates. SWA’s Australian workplace barometer (AWB) project included responses from 5,743 workers from six states and territories, excluding Qld and Vic. Given a specific, concise definition of bullying, 6.8% of AWB respondents agreed they experienced bullying in the second half of 2012, compared to international rates of about 1% to 4%. The definition was offensive behaviour occurring repeatedly over time, and the victim experienced difficulties defending him or herself. The behaviour was not bullying if two parties of equal ‘strength’ were in conflict or the incident was isolated.
Ever longer hours a major problem
Safety Consultants Australia GM Linda Scott told OHN the figures were “rather concerning”. “I knew there were things we weren’t doing well in Australia, but I didn’t realise it was that bad.” She said a key issue was Australia’s rising work hours. More than 40% of participants worked more than the national standard of 38 hours and 18% worked longer than 48 hours a week. The AWB project found nearly 42% of males reported being sworn or yelled at in the workplace; more than 20% of workers were humiliated in front of others; almost 20% experienced discomfort due to sexual humour; 6.9% of women experienced unwanted sexual advances; and 14.8% of women experienced unfair treatment due to gender. Scott said employers should not be blamed. They were not turning a blind eye to bullying, with most trying to do the best they could. Employers put much effort into developing support documents and guidelines. Scott said the AWB project gave employers an overview of key workplace issues. Employers must now begin to understand specific issues in their organisations by collecting qualitative and quantitative data. Employers should then collaborate with experts to design effective programs.
Bullying ‘costs employers millions’
The SWA report (above) found depression cost Australian employers about $8bn a year because of sickness absence and presenteeism, of which $693m was due to job strain and bullying. It said workers who showed mild symptoms of depression took twice as many sick days as those who showed no symptoms. Academics predicted stress-related illnesses, such as depression and cardiovascular disease, would be the leading causes of the global disease burden by 2020.
Source: Occupational Health News, 5 February 2013.