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
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
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
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