By Jane Garcia
Bullying and harassment continue to be a major concern for the Victorian public service, according to a survey of nearly 14,000 public sector workers by the State Services Authority’s.
The People Matter Survey 2005 found only 62 per cent of public sector employees agreed that their workplace was free from bullying and harassment. About 37 per cent of employees said they had observed these behaviours in their organisation and 21 per cent had personally experienced harassment or bullying in the 12 months prior to the survey.
Respondents reported that the maltreatment usually showed itself in the form of psychological harassment or verbal abuse from a coworker or manager.
Professor Charmine Hartel from Monash University’s Department of Management is an expert in the areas of organisational leadership, employee wellbeing and bullying. She says most workplace bullying aims at inflicting psychological, rather than physical abuse.
“The data we have around the world suggests somewhere between 10 and 50 per cent of the workplace is experiencing bullying,” Professor Hartel says.
Research suggests that different occupations increase the likelihood that a worker will
be exposed to bullying – healthcare workers, especially junior doctors and nurses, experience quite high levels of bullying, as do staff who have face-to-face contact with the public.
“I know of a case in the public sector here in Australia where they had someone from the community that had become very upset and decided that the way they would tackle an issue was by sending emails into the organisation (and globally) naming people and saying terrible, humiliating things,” she says.
“When I was speaking with the ombudman there he was saying that it had had a very dramatic effect on staff and it was very humiliating – it was like public shaming.
“Email in particular has really increased the ability of people, particularly outside of an organisation, to do the bullying. Organisations tend to have more control with email policies over their staff, as opposed to outsiders.”
Professor Hartel suggests that one of the most important things an organisation can do to prevent developing a culture of harassment or bullying is to acknowledge that bullying is not just about an individual’s behaviour but is about organisational culture.
“The organisation has a culture, which includes things like the way that you reward and evaluate people that is allowing that behaviour to happen,” she says.
“You can take the same sort of individual who might be likely to engage in bullying behaviours and if you move them into different environments you would see that in some environments their bullying behaviour would blossom and in others it would shut down.”
“Every workplace should communicate to its staff about what bullying is and the legislation, and have a code of conduct that relates to how one relates to co-workers as well as people on the outside. [The code] should have formal mechanisms about how you deal with it if something happens, how you can report it and get some assistance and that has to be clearly communicated.”
In a survey of nearly 14,000 Victorian public sector employees conducted by the State Services Authority:
• Only 62 per cent of employees agreed that their workgroup was free from bullying and harassment
• 37 per cent of those surveyed has observed these behaviours in their organisation
• 21 per cent of people had personally experienced harassment or bullying in the 12 months prior to the survey
Source: People Matter Survey 2005
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