Bullying and harassment is not only unacceptable, it is unlawful under both the Commonwealth of Australia and the state legislations. There are many acts which prohibit bullying and harassment and discrimination like the Affirmative Action (Equal Opportunity for Women) Act 1986, Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Equal Employment Opportunity (Commonwealth Authorities) Act 1987, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1996, Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994, Privacy Act 1988, Racial Discrimination Act 1975, Racial Hatred Act 1995 and Sex Discrimination Act 1984 at the federal level (Comcare, 2010) and the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, Disability Services Act 2006 and Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 at the state (NSW) level. Harassment and bullying is not just unlawful during working hours or in the workplace itself. It is also unlawful in any work-related context, including conferences, business or field trips, work functions and work end of year parties. Harassing and/or bullying behaviour may be by a supervisor or manager, a co-worker, a contractor, an advisor or others associated with the organisation.
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Anti-bullying or anti-harassment policies at workplace should provide safe and productive environment where the dignity of every individual should be equally respected. The workplace should ensure to provide fair and equitable treatment to all the employees regardless of their protected characteristics such as sex, age, race, disability, sexual orientation, physical characteristics marital status, religious or political belief, parental or carer status, pregnancy, gender identity, family responsibilities or any other personal attribute under law. Harassment at workplace can include unwanted physical contact, verbal abuse and threat, offensive gestures, unwelcome and offensive remarks, jokes or innuendos, unwanted sexual propositions or demands, practical jokes that cause awkwardness, embarrassment or distress, unwelcome personal contact outside the workplace, unwelcome invitations or requests, intimidation, suggestive behaviour, the display of offensive notices or posters, mocking comments about a person’s appearance or manner of speech etc. Workplace bullying can involve humiliation, domination, intimidation, victimisation and all forms of harassment including that based on sex, race, disability, homosexuality or transgender. Bullying of any form or for any reason can have long-term effects on those involved including bystanders. Bullying behaviour can be verbal (e.g. name calling, teasing, abuse, putdowns, sarcasm, insults, threats), physical (e.g. hitting, punching, kicking, scratching, tripping, spitting), social ( e.g. ignoring, excluding, ostracising, alienating, making inappropriate gestures) or psychological (e.g. spreading rumours, dirty looks, hiding or damaging possessions, malicious SMS and email messages, inappropriate use of camera phones).
Literature review of the anti-bullying and anti-harassment measures
In Australia, the workplaces identify bullying by the three criteria mentioned in most of the anti-bullying, anti-harassment and anti- discrimination policies (Comcare,2010; NT WorkSafe, 2012; SafeWork South Australia, 2010; WorkCover NSW, 2009; Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, 2004; WorkSafe Victoria, 2009; WorkSafe Western Australia, 2010). The criteria are, they are repeated rather than singular, unreasonable and pose a risk to cause health and safety issues. Bullying and harassment not only have an effect on the health of the individuals being bullied (Einarsen et al, 2011) but also have significant financial implications on the organisations that do not take measures to prevent them (Australian Productivity Commission, 2010; Einarsen et al, 2011). Therefore preventing bullying/harassment by providing safe work environment in order to avoid psychological impact on the worker’s health are the organisation’s responsibility (Lyon & Livermore, 2007).
There is considerable literature around the causes of the work place aggression/bullying which are placed into three classes ‘internal’ and ‘external’ factors and their ‘interaction’. For example, internal influences are related to the personality or the severity of illness of the patients whereas external influences focus on factors like shortage of staff or noisy stressful work environment. The interactional approach acknowledges the interplay of the internal and external factors in triggering maintaining and exacerbation workplace aggression which is manifested through harassment or bullying of the staff.
The workplace should not tolerate harassment, bullying or discriminative behaviour of any kind, whether it is by the managers, staff, contractors, advisors or others associated with the organisation in the course of its operations. All staff should be informed and trained at the time of employment, the organisations stance on harassment, bullying and discrimination. Increased awareness will persuade staff to have ‘zero tolerance’ for bullying and will encourage workers to combat it either by refusing to take part in it or by not keeping silent and reporting the incident on time. Furthermore early intervention is important. Regular workplace surveys and informal and formal discussions with the workers will help secure early intervention (Moore, Lynch & Smith, 2006).
Workplace bullying and harassment in the health sector affects not only the professional but also the personal lives of the staff. They have an impact on the patients they care for and on the organisations reputations and the fiscal health. For example it was evident from one of the studies that nurses feel less safe at work primarily because of their colleagues bullying and harassment than from the patients or their relatives. Poor staff relations and negative organisational environments were identified as the main reasons for the workplace bullying (Farrell & Shafiei, 2012). Hence positive organisational environments including support from the supervisors, managers and colleagues can help buffer the negative influences of the workplace bullying and harassment as well as enhancing the staff’s perception to cope with the situation when it arises (Parzefall & Salin, 2010). Moreover where there is support from the colleagues and the managers, and where training and information to deal with the workplace bullying is available to the staff, it is observed that these can help buffer some of the negative health consequences of the bullying and violence (Schat & Kelloway, 2003).
In order to reduce the incidence of bullying in the public health organisations in Australia, research suggests that the focus should be on four areas of the people management practices which include the quality and frequency of the performance feedback, level of supportive leadership, building an engaging work team environment and establishing managers have accountability for people management (Cotton et al, 2008).These four areas of people management practices can be achieved by taking a proactive approach to bullying through promoting a positive workplace culture, senior management commitment, developing a bullying policy and related procedures, communication and consultation, monitoring of the work climate by surveys and other methods and informing training and instructing the employees (Comcare, 2010)
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In the health service organisations, management and staff are equally responsible to prevent the bullying and harassment at the workplace. Management has the responsibility to monitor the working environment to ensure that acceptable standards of conduct are observed at all times, model appropriate behaviour themselves, promote organisations anti-harassment policy within their work area, treat all complaints seriously and take immediate action to investigate and resolve the matter. Staff has the responsibility to comply with the organisations anti-harassment policy, offer support to anyone who is harassed and advise them where they can get help and advice, maintain complete confidentiality during the investigation of a harassment complaint, report bullying, harassment and offensive behaviour, even if not involved, to management. Over the past few years Victoria State has strictly implemented a number of anti-harassment and anti-bullying initiatives in their public health system including workplace redesign, provision of personal duress alarms, employment of specially trained security staff and so forth. However their translation to practice is left to individual health organisations as a result of which they were rarely followed up to know if the above initiatives were successful. This lack of evaluation measures reflects the situation that is prevalent across the Australia in respect to workplace bullying, where there is no agreed national approach and little in the way of the systematic program appraisal (Farrell & Cubit, 2005).
There was some concerns in the past that the anti- bullying preventive measures mentioned in the literature and the polices adopted by the health service organisations were not in tandem with each other as a result of which the services failed to prevent and intervene in bullying. However recent studies has provided evidence that not only the Australian health care organisations are starting to make active efforts to prevent harassment and bullying, but also their efforts agree fairly with the recommendations emanating from the research world. Furthermore the Human Resources departments in the health care organisations seem to recognise the importance of dealing with the bullying and hence go beyond just formulating the policies or training the staff. The active involvement of the Human Resource personnel also negates the popular belief in the past that it is the role of the managers and the immediate supervisors and not the HR department to intervene in preventing the bullying at the workplace. There is a need to implement the HR practices like attitude and training surveys, formal appraisal discussions and performance based pay etc. in the health care organisations.
The other key factor that needs to be changed in the health care organisations is that the anti- bullying action is rather undertaken for the problems reported and not as a preventive measure. In other words many health organisations adopt anti-bullying measures as part of a reactive rather than a proactive strategy. Also there is an urgent need to recognise that the anti-bullying polices in the health services should be framed based on the needs and requirements of the local organisation and not copy pasting from other sources or merely imitating other organisations. Thus, a policy that does not address the local organisation needs is less likely to be adapted, less likely to be implemented and less likely to be applied when the bullying actually occurs. Furthermore, it is observed that there is severe lack of evaluations and surveys to identify the effectiveness of the currently practised anti-bullying measures in the health organisations.
As health services are becoming increasingly complex in terms of staff, resources, communications and so forth, they should have clear expectations regarding the transparency of the employer’s interpersonal interactions to avoid the occurrence of the complex or troublesome interpersonal dynamics. The health organisations should take all complaints of harassment, bullying and/or discrimination seriously and deal with them promptly in a spirit of compassion and justice. They should ensure that the privacy is maintained and the complainants and witnesses are not victimised in any way either by the management or the employees.
- Australian Productivity Commission 2010, Performance benchmarking of Australian business regulation: Occupational health and safety, Canberra, viewed 25 March 2014, http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/96163/ohs-report.pdf.
- Comcare. 2010. Preventing and managing bullying at work – A guide for employers (OHS65), Canberra, viewed 25 March 2014, http://www.comcare.gov.au/forms__and__publications/publications/safety_and_prevention/?a=40108
- Cotton P, Hart P, Palmer R, Armstrong K, Schembri C 2008, Working well: An organisational approach to preventing psychological injury, a guide for corporate, HR and OHS managers. Comcare, Viewed 25 March 2014, http://www.comcare.gov.au/forms__and__publications/publications/safety_and_prevention/?a=41369
- Einarsen S, Hoel H, Zapf D, Cooper CL 2011, Bullying and harassment in the workplace: Development in theory, research and practice, 2nd edn, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.
- Farrell G & Cubit K 2005, Nurses under threat: a comparison of content of 28 aggression management programs. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, vol.14 no.1, pp. 44–53.
- Farrell GA & Shafiei T 2012, Workplace aggression, including bullying in nursing and midwifery: A descriptive survey (the SWAB study), International Journal of Nursing Studies, vol. 49, pp.1423–1431.
- Lyon G & Livermore G 2007, ‘The regulation of workplace bullying’, Melbourne: WorkSafe Victoria.
- Moore MO, Lynch J, & Smith M 2006, ‘The way forward’, Proceedings from the 5th international conference on bullying and harassment in the workplace, Trinity College, Dublin, pp. 129–131.
- NT WorkSafe 2012, Prevention of bullying at work – Employers, Darwin, viewed 26 March 2014, http://www.worksafe.nt.gov.au/Bulletins/Bulletins/15.01.12.pdf.
- Parzefall MR & Salin DM 2010, Perceptions of and reactions to workplace bullying: a social exchange perspective, Human Relations, vol.63, no.6, pp.761–780.
- SafeWork South Australia 2010, Preventing workplace bullying: A practical guide for employers, (0095), Adelaide, viewed 26 March 2014, http://www.stopbullyingsa.com.au/documents/bullying_employers.pdf.
- Schat AC & Kelloway EK 2003, Reducing the adverse consequences of workplace aggression and violence: the buffering effects of organizational support, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, vol.8, no.2, pp.110–122.
- WorkCover NSW 2009, Preventing and responding to bullying at work, (WC02054), Sydney: WorkCover Authority of NSW, viewed 26 March 2014, http://www.workcover.nsw.gov.au/formspublications/publications/Documents/bullying_at_work_2054.pdf.
- Workplace Health and Safety Queensland 2004, Prevention of workplace harassment – Code of practice 2004, (PN11183), Brisbane, viewed 26 March 2014, http://www.deir.qld.gov.au/workplace/resources/pdfs/prevention-workplace-harassment-cop-2004.pdf.
- WorkSafe Victoria 2009, Preventing and responding to bullying at work, Melbourne, viewed 26 March 2014, http://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/f61387004071f2b98ca4dee1fb554c40/WSV585_05_04.10WEBsmall.pdf?MOD=AJPERES.
- WorkSafe Western Australia 2010, Code of practice – Violence, aggression and bullying at work, Perth, viewed 26 March 2014, http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/WorkSafe/PDF/Codes_of_Practice/Code_violence.pdf.
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