Now is the time for better employment protection against workplace bullying

The present social system may have addressed the inequalities which were found out to be mostly driven by misunderstandings, prejudice, elitism and racism. However, it appeared that it still has to battle another form of contemporary injustice: workers’ protection against abuses at work. What makes the situation worse is such issue does not reach state or federal levels.

General opinion starts fuel up an initial reaction to bullying victims that they should be tougher. Such turns out to be a narrow-minded thinking as it seems to tolerate bullying. Bullying at work negatively affects the organizational culture which in turn, damages productivity and extend to the employees’ lives outside the office.

No reports have been filed due to reasons like fear of retaliation, potential income loss, or personal biases which rendered the victims to remain silent. This culture of impunity, along with the lack of policies and legal protections provided an unwinnable fight for employees bullied at work.

What is alarming is that bullying seems to evolve as bullies no longer solely employ symbolic or overt gestures. This generation now provides for passive acts such as isolation, demeaning behavior, abuse of authority, and blaming the victim as if the abusive behavior is due to the victim’s fault. Generally, legal remedies are available but not of convenience in case of workplace bullying as employees does not fall to a “protected class.” Such virtual impunity does not concretely prevent bullying at work.

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Have you always found yourself being ‘bullied’ at work? Sometimes it’s not them, it’s you

Countless articles and reports have been written about workplace bullying, bully bosses, the reasons behind it and how to deal with the situation.  The negative behavior of bad bosses often push employees to leave work and the negative environment behind.  However, there are employees who may have had the experience of having bad bosses in every organization that they joined in. In some cases, it may be because the employee had the unfortunate luck to encounter work place bullies.  In a few instances, it may because of the employee’s attitude.

According to Suzanne Lucas, an HR professional with 10 years working experience in corporate HR, there may be instances when the employee may need to take a look at themselves to find out why they keep on getting bad bosses or experiencing negative things at work.  Lucas suggests for these employees to take an introspective look at their work habits, attitudes and even skills.  One or some of these may be the reason why a few workers may have had a hard time at work or even became a target of a work place bully.

Often times, bullies tend to target individuals who don’t fight back or are easily intimidated.  If an employee who was bullied at work doesn’t learn how to stand up against the work place bully, then they may experience the same negative working environment even if they opt to leave and join a new organization.  There are certain traits that bullies are attracted to and if the bully victims don’t take steps to protect themselves, then the negative cycle is repeated once again.  While this isn’t the fault of the employees who were bullied at work, it would help if they learn some skills and techniques to help deal with workplace bullying.


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Swearing at work considered as workplace bullying

Using swear words at work is generally a “no-no” although some employees may have had the experience of working with someone who would use or or two words in a conversation or during an angry fit.  Sometimes even the employees themselves use swear words at work.  However, the changes in New Zealand’s workplace bullying guidelines may land a few employees or bosses in hot water, especially if they use a swear word against another person.

According to workplace bullying expert Alan Halse, revisions to the workplace bullying guidelines made in 2014 has removed the need for employees who were bullied at work to prove intent when it came to the negative bullying behavior.  This means that employers or business in which bad languages are being used in the workplace may soon find themselves receiving workplace bullying complaints from employees who are offended by the swearing, even if it wasn’t directed at a person.

This is interesting since in most instances, a few choice swear words have become “common” in today’s language.  The use of these swear words may not even be directed to a person.  An individual may have used it to help put “emphasis” into a statement or experience.  It can also be directed to an inanimate object such as a computer or a laptop that may have unexpectedly died a “blue screen of death” during a presentation day.

Admittedly using curse words are improper, especially at the work place where the working environment is expected to exude professionalism, among other things.  Employers and business owners in New Zealand will have to watch out for non-bullies or bullies at the workplace who uses swear words, in order to avoid legal actions being filed against them.


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How is Australia’s anti-bullying program holding up?

Aside from a new year, the first day of January 2014 was the day that Australia’s anti-bullying regime was introduced at the Fair Work Commission (FWC).  The program provided employees, who became victims of workplace bullying, to report a claim against their employer’s abusive behavior.  This was the first time that Australia passed a legislation to cover bullying at work.

Prior to the implementation of the anti-workplace bullying regime, the FWC was expecting to receive around 3,500 bullying claims every year.  However, reports issued by the FWC indicated that only 874 cases of employees being bullied at work was received by the Commission since its inception until March 2015.

The number is very low.  What’s alarming is that 72 percent of these cases were finalized with an FWC decision and all but 1 bullying application was dismissed.  That means that only 1 among the 874 claims filed to the FWC was granted or deemed successful.

The low numbers of workplace bullying claims filed with the FWC is attributed to the lack of a compensation penalty.  With the current anti-bullying program, the FWC may only impose orders to deal with workplace bullying and prevent it from happening to the claimant again.  This is only applicable to bullying applications that are considered successful.  In such cases, it also allows the FWC to order the company to introduce or enhance workplace policies on bullying.

Another reason to the low numbers may be the hesitation of bullied employees to speak up about the abuse they experienced at work.

To read more about Australia’s anti-bullying program, click here.

Workplace Bullying as Prevalent as Domestic Abuse

One of the speakers in a workplace forum held in New Zealand, which was conducted by CultureSafe, said that workplace bullying is just as prevalent as domestic violence.  Robyn Hutchison is a promoter of employees taking a stand after she experienced an unjustified dismissal in May 2011.  Hutchinson even won the employment case she filed against her former employer over the dismissal.

She went on to state that at least one in five employees experience being bullied at work.  Hutchinson added that the prevalence of work place bullies in organizations stems from the reluctance of victims to stand up against the bullying and to speak out.  Similar to how victims of domestic violence deal with their situations, some may be hesitant to let other people know of the abusive behavior they encounter at home.  The same can be said for employees who were bullied at work.  Most of the time, bullied employees chose to remain silent and tried their best to cope with the situation.

However, this has a negative effect on bully victims, not only in terms of their productivity at work, it also impacts their health, both mentally and physically.  In worst cases, it can also lead to the victim contemplating thoughts of suicide.

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Workplace bullying is an ever present reason why people leave their jobs

Many research and studies have pointed out how damaging workplace bullying is to the organization and the employees.  It not only affects productivity and company profits, it also impacts the bullying victim’s health.

Employees who experienced being bullied at work would sometimes opt to stay and try to cope with the negative working environment.  However, a few employees would rather leave the organization and the work place bully behind.  A research conducted by the National Anti-Bullying Centre at Dublin City University supported this and showed that nearly all of the cases filed with the Employment Appeals Tribunal involved workplace bullying.

In many of the cases taken under Dublin’s Unfair Dismissals Act, the complainants shared that they felt forced to quit their jobs because of the bully boss or colleague.  This is rather disheartening to learn, however, it is a stark reality that most employees face at the work.  Workplace bullying has become prevalent in many organizations and although many companies have adopted policies to address the issue, there are still instances when bullying happens.

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A workplace bullying victim’s advice to other bullied employees: ‘Learn to speak up, speak loud’

More and more victims of workplace bullying are coming out and sharing their stories.  Some even become advocates of anti-workplace bullying programs, while a few have maximized the wide reach of the internet to share words of wisdom to other victims.

An Australian employee who used to work in a bottle shop in Toowoomba mustered up enough courage to share his story in the Chronicle and also encouraged other people who experienced being bullied at work, to “speak up” and “speak loud.”  This was what he learned to do as he previously went through verbally abusive days, harassment, mob bullying and discrimination.

The bully victim also questioned the six month time frame in filing bullying claims in Australia, stating that the effect of workplace bullying doesn’t only last within that period.  It goes on well after the negative experience happened and something that may very well haunt the victim all throughout his or her life.

In the article, the workplace bullying victim stressed that other people who witnessed the work place bully or bullies behaving negatively should also take a stand and that people should not tolerate it.  The impassioned call for action is very timely given the rising number of workplace bullying.  Needless to say, the abusive behavior of bullies is also very damaging, not only to the victims but to the organization as well, as it will ultimately affect productivity and company profits.

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Workplace bullying is very costly but it doesn’t get noticed

We’ve often heard how workplace bullying can cost a company hundreds to thousands of dollars. However, despite its impact on an organization’s budget, the cases of employees being bullied at work sometimes remain unnoticed.

According to an Office Team research more than a quarter of HR managers say they think workplace bullying occurs at least somewhat often in their companies.  The Office Team study also indicated that one in three employees admit they had a work place bully in their organizations.  Employees who are bullied at work sometimes become distracted because of the negative working environment.  It affects their productivity and often leads to low morale.

Bert Alicea, a licensed psychologist as well as Vice President of EAP and work/life services at Health Advocate, said that a company can lose tens of thousands of dollars due to absenteeism, lost productivity, lost stress-related issues and other concerns brought about by workplace bullying.  Aside from these factors, having a bully in the workplace can also contribute to high turnover, which in turn, results to higher recruitment costs.  There is also a possibility of a company losing a key talent or high performer because of an office bully.

Having clear policies and zero tolerance for bullying and harassment are critical factors in ensuring that workplace bullying problems are properly addressed. Implementing workplace bullying prevention training programs for the employees and supervisors will also help to spread more awareness about the issue.

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Fight workplace bullying with education and a culture of accountability

The medical profession is one of the industries where workplace bullying is most prevalent.  From doctors, nurses and medical staff, instances where a healthcare professional is bullied at work is reportedly rampant.

Addressing bullying at work is a challenging and complex process.  According to experts, dealing with workplace bullying requires a multi-pronged approach which includes education and fostering a culture of accountability.  Workplace bullying is not only the responsibility of HR professionals, everybody in the organization has a part to play in ensuring that it does not happen at work.  Ensuring that bullying in the healthcare industry is dealt with is especially critical since it could ultimately affect the patients.

Employees who experience being bullied at work are less productive and become distracted given the negative working environment.  Medical professionals who become targets of a work place bully may not be able to properly attend to the patients or tasks that require their utmost concentration.  It is scary to think what damage could be done given the distracted attention of a medical staff.

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What are the best practices in dealing with work place bullies?

Workplace bullying is becoming prevalent in many organizations.  The abusive behavior is displayed not only by bully bosses, but employees can also experience it from co-workers.

A study conducted by Office Team indicated that 35 percent of the 600 employees and HR professionals they surveyed had a bully in the workplace.  Those that experienced being bullied at work would sometimes get confused on how to handle the situation.

Some victims would opt to confront the workplace bully.  However there are a few who chose to remain silent and learn to cope with the situation.  Unfortunately, being exposed to a negative working environment raises the stress levels of bullied employees.  The abusive working conditions can also push an employee to leave the organization.  The Office Team survey showed that 13 percent chose to quit their jobs because of workplace bullying.

So, how can an employee deal with workplace bullying?  Having an open discussion with the bully is one option.  Sometimes, the bullies are not aware that their negative behaviors made a huge impact on other people.  A key item also is for business owners to foster a positive culture at work and have zero tolerance for workplace bullying and harassment.

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