14 April 2010

NEW ZEALAND rated worst in world for Workplace Bullying

New Zealand has some of the highest rates of workplace bullying in the world
  • One in five employees being subjected to overbearing or belittling behaviour at work, new research shows.
  • A survey of 1728 workers in the health, education, travel and hospitality sectors found 18% had been bullied, while 75% had suffered workplace stress.
The figures are revealed in a university survey released today.
A joint university research team – from Auckland, Waikato, Massey with London's Birbeck University – polled more than 1700 workers from the health, education, hospitality and travel sectors asking how frequently they were exposed to "negative acts" at work.
Overall 17.8 per cent of respondents were identified as victims of bullying.
The international range was between 5 per cent and 20 per cent.
Higher rates of bullying were found in the education and health sectors and also in kitchen "hot spots" within the hospitality industry.
Bullying included bosses picking on workers, workers harassing colleagues and workers intimidating bosses.
Lead researcher Professor Tim Bentley said the cost of bullying had been estimated in Britain at $NZ2165 per person each year and almost $NZ5.23 billion per year in Australia.
Bullying hit costs because of decreases in productivity due to worker absenteeism, staff turnover, lower staff satisfaction and time spent investigating bullying.
He said workplace bullying in New Zealand could be "a billion-dollar problem".
"Who knows how much this is actually costing organisations? It must be a terrific amount ... Minimum it's a multimillion-dollar problem, it could easily be a billion-dollar problem in New Zealand. That's not taking into account all the indirect costs."
He wants changes to health and safety laws to combat workplace bullying alongside harassment and discrimination.
The report was commissioned by the Labour Department.Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson said it was "an interesting piece of research" but employment courts were able to deal with bullying through personal grievance claims.
"Producing some sort of definition in legislation would be complex and more than likely ineffective," she said.
David Lowe, of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, was sceptical of the survey, saying the "negative acts" research question was too wide.
"What people would normally describe as bullying and `two negative acts in the workplace' are not one and the same," Lowe said.
"If somebody had said to the person, `you're not doing well enough, you need to do it better', and told them that twice in one week, that might amount to bullying under this survey, but it is not bullying, it is simply running your business."
The survey also posed a more direct "self-report" question asking whether respondents felt they were being bullied either "several times a week" or "almost daily" which yielded a smaller figure of 3.9 per cent.
Wilkinson said it was naive to believe bullying did not occur "quite regularly" in workplaces.
Lowe agreed if bullying existed it needed to be addressed.
The Labour Department said it would use the findings to produce fact sheets and other "guidance material" to help employers and staff deal with bullying.
Workplaces Against Violence in Employment director Hadyn Olsen, said workplace bullying was a huge stress factor for many people - the majority of whom chose not to make a complaint or bring up the issue, out of fear of being bullied further.
Mr Olsen said studies by his organisation showed up to 53 per cent of people who do report being bullied got bullied even more.
"And so the stress factor is huge because they don't know when the next situation will be and they don't feel safe," he said.
Mr Olsen said he had dealt with many types of bullying, which include intimidation, behaviour that offends, makes fun, undermines or excludes.
The more severe cases of workplace bullying include sexual harassment.
In one case, a victim decided to make a formal complaint.
A meeting was arranged where the victim and the bully met senior staff, who then went on to reveal in front of the two that a complaint had been made by the victim, against the bully.
When the bully denied the accusation, the victim was not believed by management staff.
The victim suffered more bullying as a consequence.
The research study, funded by the Department of Labour and Health Research Council, also found that employers across all those sectors surveyed did not understand, or know how to address the problem of workplace bullying.
Professor Bentley said there needed to be a cultural change within New Zealand workplaces, with a zero-tolerance policy on bullying.

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