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Bullying. No, it doesn’t just happen in the school playground. It’s rife in workplaces across Australia and businesses are counting the cost. Productivity Commission research estimates the total cost of bullying to the Australian economy to be $15 billion each year. And research released in 2014 by the University of South Australia revealed that Australia is ranked sixth for workplace bullying when compared to 31 European countries.

But it’s not just the economic cost. Workplace bullying can cause great distress and serious psychological injury to victims, as well as reducing workplace productivity and increasing workers’ compensation claims and associated costs for employers.

So what is workplace bullying? Many people think of it as involving overtly aggressive or intimidating conduct. But that’s only part of the story. Most bullying is not so obvious. Bossing people around, belittling them, spreading rumours, or keeping them under constant work and time pressures can also amount to bullying.

Employers are obliged to take all reasonably practicable steps to manage health and safety risks in their workplaces – and bullying is one of those risks. Workplace bullying is best dealt with by taking steps to prevent it before it creates a risk to health and safety. So what can you do as a business owner to reduce the risk of workplace bullying?

Identify the potential for bullying. The presence of certain factors in the workplace may increase the risk of bullying. Work stressors such as job insecurity or unreasonable performance expectations can have an impact. So too can different leadership styles, not allowing for workers to participate in decision making, and poor communication. By making time to have regular discussions with workers, supervisors and managers you’ll be in a better position to monitor workplace relationships, recognise any changes in workplace culture and identify the potential for bullying.

Have a strong workplace bullying policy. By having a workplace bullying policy in place you can ensure that any unreasonable behaviour is addressed before it escalates. The policy should include a statement that the business is committed to preventing workplace bullying as part of providing a safe and healthy work environment. It should also set out the standard of behaviour expected in the workplace and the consequences of not complying with the policy. Details of how and where to report incidents should also be included, as well as the process for responding to reports. And, most importantly, make sure every person employed by your business is aware of the policy.

Promote awareness through training. Workers, managers and supervisors all need to be aware of their roles in relation to preventing and responding to workplace bullying. Induction training for workers should include information on the standards of behaviour expected in the workplace. And managers and supervisors should also be trained in how to respond to workplace bullying reports and in skills that will help develop productive and respectful workplace relationships.

Create a positive culture. Utlimately, it’s the culture of a workplace that has the greatest impact on bullying. And the risk of workplace bullying can be minimised by creating a positive environment where everyone treats each other with respect. Good management practices, effective communication and strong support can help create a positive workplace culture that discourages bullying.

Remember, the costs of a bullying claim can be staggering. Safe Work Australia data shows that the median cost of a workplace bullying claim to an employer is $20,900. So taking steps to foster a positive workplace culture is more than worth it.

Even better, it can help ensure your workers’ compensation premiums stay low. Emjay Insurance Brokers are experts in workers’ compensation insurance and can help you with risk management, workplace analysis and targeted training needs. To discuss our workers’ compensation services, call us on (02) 9796 0400.

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