Half of all Australian employees will experience workplace bullying during their careers, new research finds.
Of those bullied, 40 per cent of people experienced workplace bullying early in their career and between 5 and 7 per cent had been bullied in the previous six months, a study, by the University of Wollongong found.
Young males, who had limited social support at work, and those who worked in stressful environments were found to be most at risk.
The report described workplace bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker that created a risk to health and safety.
Under the definition, it said this could include verbal abuse and humiliation, social isolation, withholding information and spreading rumours.
Former corporate executive Kerin Kenny, 64, ended up in hospital with clinical depression and severe anxiety due to workplace bullying.
“There were several incidents where I look back now and I had been insidiously undermined in the role and then there was a situation where I was publicly embarrassed,” she said.
Ms Kenny, who had more than 30 years experience in her industry, said her illness was so extensive she could not return to the job.
Four years on she is now on the road to recovery and has become a speaker for beyondblue.
Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 workers as part of the study and literature review, which was commissioned by beyondblue.
The results of the study, conducted in 2014, were being released for the first time, to coincide with Mental Health Week.
The chief executive officer of beyondblue Georgie Harman said there was a strong link between workplace bullying and mental health.
“We know that those who experience and perpetrate workplace bullying have higher rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder and health problems such as cardiovascular disease,” she said.
Workplace bullying strategies ‘failing’
She said the research found that current attempts to deal with bullying were failing.
“The strategies and policies tend to target individuals, including the perpetrator and the victim, not the organisation that allows the bullying to occur,” she said.
“We need to be targeting the organisations where there is a culture of bullying and empowering employees through communication.”
Staff need skills to deal with conflict
Sarah Rey, from Melbourne law firm Justitia, said there needed to be better training for staff around anti-bullying policies and procedures.
“There needs to be a move now towards giving people the skills to manage conflict and bring their complaints to the person against whom they wish to make a complaint in a safe environment and have the confidence to do that without feeling they are going to be bullied,” she said.
Ms Harman said workplace bullying was rife in the community and it was in companies’ interests to address the issue.
In 2010, the Productivity Commission found that bullying at work costs Australian organisations between $6 billion and $36 billion a year in lost productivity.