Bullying

The instances of workplace bullying have shown a large decrease over the past two years, as measured by the results of the People Matter survey, but it continues to be a major concern for the NSW public sector.

In 2014, 23% of People Matter survey respondents reported that they had been subjected to bullying, and 41% reported witnessing bullying in the past 12 months. This is lower than the 2012 figure, when 29% of respondents reported personally experiencing bullying and 48% of respondents reported witnessing bullying.

This year, employees reported that bullying consisted of a combination of different behaviours. The most frequent forms (reported three times or more) in 2014 were:

  • negative body language, gestures or glances (63%)
  • mistreating one or more co-workers (67%)
  • withholding important information (50%)
  • devaluing work efforts (53%)
  • avoiding or ignoring employee(s) (60%).

Of the respondents who had experienced bullying, 21% submitted a formal complaint. Of those who submitted a formal complaint, 19% felt their complaint was successfully resolved, and 19% were awaiting resolution. Sixty-two per cent of complaints were unresolved.

There was no clear pattern as to who was a bully: employees reported that bullies could be supervisors (28%), senior managers (23%) and co-workers (23%). Nor was workplace bullying uniform. For example, the proportion of female employees who experienced bullying (24%) was higher than the proportion of male employees (20%). This was similar to the 2012 results. There were also large differences in 2014 across clusters with responses ranging from 12% (Premier and Cabinet) to 28% (Health) of employees who had experienced bullying.

Workplace bullying was also disproportionate for other demographic groups of employees. Some 32% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and 36% of employees with a disability had experienced bullying in the past 12 months. This compared to 43% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and 42% of people with a disability in 2012, and may reflect the clearer definition of bullying rather than a drop in occurrences. Workplace bullying was also more common among front-line workers than other workers.

The People Matter survey's investigation of salary bands revealed that bullying from an unspecified senior manager became more prominent among better-paid employees, while employees on lower salaries were more likely to identify a co-worker as a bully (see Figure 19).

Figure 19: Source of bullying by salary bands

Figure 19 is a horizontal bar graph that shows the percentage of reported bullying by salary bracket and identifies the source of the bullying as either a senior manager, immediate manager or supervisor or a fellow worker at level. In the less than $35,000 salary bracket, 17.0% a senior manager, 30.7% immediate manager or supervisor, 27.7% a fellow worker at level; in the $35,000 to $44,999 salary bracket, 16.3 % a senior manager, 29.8% immediate manager or supervisor, 31.3% a fellow worker at level; in the $45,000 to $54,999 salary bracket, 14.9% a senior manager, 30.7% immediate manager or supervisor, 29.8% a fellow worker at level; in the $55,000 to $64,999 salary bracket, 17.5% a senior manager, 29.3% immediate manager or supervisor, 27.8% a fellow worker at  level; in the $65,000 to $74,999 salary bracket, 21.3% a senior manager, 29.9% immediate manager or supervisor, 27.1% a fellow worker at level; in the $75,000 to $84,999 salary bracket, 23.2% a senior manager, 29.6% immediate manager or supervisor, 24.9% a fellow worker at level; in the $85,000 to $94,999 salary bracket, 28.5% a senior manager, 29.9% immediate manager or supervisor, 20.1% a fellow worker at level; in the $95,000 to $109,999 salary bracket, 27.8% a senior manager, 23.8% immediate manager or supervisor, 17.8% a fellow worker at level; in the $110,000 to $139,999 salary bracket, 25.0% a senior manager, 22.6% immediate manager or supervisor, 15.3% a fellow worker at level; in the $140,000 to $169,999 salary bracket, 25.7% a senior manager, 24.5% immediate manager or supervisor, 10.9% a fellow worker at level; in the $170,000 to $229,999 salary bracket, 39.3% a senior manager, 18.6% immediate manager or supervisor, 15.4% a fellow worker at level; in the $230,000 or more salary bracket, 29.6% a senior manager, 25.1% immediate manager or supervisor, 15.3% a fellow worker at level.

Younger employees were more likely to report serious bullying from their contemporaries than from older employees. However, those aged over 40 were more likely to identify a senior manager or their immediate supervisor as the primary source of serious bullying.

Action on bullying

The Public Service Commissioner took urgent steps to address the unacceptably high rates of bullying when they were first reported in the 2012 People Matter survey. In 2013, he directed agency heads to report on the actions they had taken to address bullying in their agencies. All agencies reported they had policies and strategies to prevent or counter bullying, suggesting they needed improvement.

In March 2014, the Commissioner convened NSW's first roundtable on bullying with agency and union representatives to develop a new, evidence-based approach to the problem. A major theme of its discussions is the importance of tackling the organisational culture (psychosocial factors) that influences workplace bullying, rather than just the traditional approach, which focuses on the behaviours of individual bullies and victims.17 This approach of preventing bullying by managing workplace factors is new to the NSW public sector.

PSC is using the 2012 and 2014 People Matter survey findings to explore two strategies to prevent bullying, including:

  • identifying workplace-level factors that prevent bullying
  • being aware of early warning indicators to trigger pre‑emptive management action before bullying patterns develop.

Based on recent research that investigated associated indicators of workplace bullying, specific items from the 2014 People Matter survey were examined and the data combined to form indexes. The results in Table 8 show how employees who experienced bullying rated items in the People Matter survey by index score.

Table 8: Differences in People Matter survey findings for employees who experienced bullying

Table 8 shows employees who experienced bullying rated Supportive leadership 25% lower, Team morale 20% lower, Stress 17% higher, Engagement 15% lower, Performance feedback 15% lower, Work demands 14% higher and Role clarity 7% lower.

These findings are consistent with workplace research by the Australian Psychological Society.18 This suggests that in addition to having anti-bullying policies and procedures, agencies need line managers to demonstrate a high standard of professional conduct to employees and teams, and to give line managers the support, authority and training to promptly tackle unethical conduct if it occurs.

PSC is developing a dashboard to be used as a tool by HR managers to identify areas that are at risk of bullying. In addition, PSC is reviewing the procedures and skills managers need to promptly and effectively investigate and respond to cases of bullying, with due process and in such a way that individuals are supported and any contributing organisational climate factors are eliminated.


17.Dollard et al (2013), The Australian Workplace Barometer: Report on psychosocial safety climate and worker health in Australia

18.Australian Psychological Society, The Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program

The Public Service Commission acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the land on which our office stands.