30 August 2022

Organisational structures, not individuals, are to blame for workplace bullying, which affects 10 per cent of employees, according to a new Australian study citing “poor management practices” as the root cause of bullying.

For the first time, University of South Australia researchers have developed an evidence-based screening tool that identifies nine major risk areas for workplace bullying embedded in day-to-day practices, putting the onus on organisations to address the problem.

In a paper published this week in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, lead author UniSA Professor Michelle Tuckey and colleagues from the Centre for Workplace Excellence,  the University of Queensland and Auburn University in the US offer a new way of tackling bullying at work.

They analysed 342 real-life bullying complaints lodged with SafeWork SA, 60 per cent of them from female employees. The highest number of complaints were from health and community services, property and business, and the retail sector. The complaints revealed the risk areas for bullying in organisations.

“Workplace bullying predominantly shows up in how people are managed,” Prof Tuckey says.

“Managing work performance, co-ordinating working hours and entitlements, and shaping workplace relationships are key areas that organisations need to focus on.

“It can be tempting to see bullying as a behavioural problem between individuals, but the evidence suggests that bullying actually reflects structural risks in the organisations themselves.”

The major organisational risks have now been identified and built into a screening tool that has been validated in a hospital setting.

“The tool predicts both individual-level and team-level workplace bullying risks that jeopardise the psychological health of employees,” Prof Tuckey says.

The researchers say that existing strategies, such as anti-bullying policies, bullying awareness training, incident reporting and investigating complaints, focus on behaviour between individuals and overlook workplace structures.

“Workplace bullying undermines the functioning of employees and organisations alike. It leads to mental health problems, post-traumatic stress symptoms, emotional exhaustion, poor job satisfaction, high staff turnover, low productivity, sleep problems and even suicide risks.

“To prevent bullying, organisations must proactively assess and mitigate the underlying risk factors, like other systematic risk management processes. Only then will an organisation thrive,” Prof Tuckey says.

A video explaining the research is available at: https://youtu.be/flvt3ZZrL8k



Contact for interview:  Professor Michelle Tuckey email michelle.tuckey@unisa.edu.au
Media contact: Candy Gibson office (08) 8302 0961 mobile: 0434 605 142 email: candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au


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