Research projects

Workplace bullying in Australia

Principal researchers

Dr Christopher Magee

Dr Ross Gordon

A/Prof Peter Caputi

A/Prof Lindsay Oades

Dr Samantha Reis

Ms Laura Robinson

Institution     

Centre for Health Initiatives, University of Wollongong

Funding         

$89,364.30

Project completion year      

2014

Project brief

In this project, the research team aimed to investigate the nature of workplace bullying in Australia, as well as identify strategies to prevent and manage workplace bullying. This involved addressing five research questions:

  • What behaviours or experiences constitute bullying in the workplace?
  • What factors predict workplace bullying?
  • What are the consequences of workplace bullying for individuals and organisations?
  • What practical strategies are currently used to prevent and manage workplace bullying?
  • How effective are these strategies in preventing and managing workplace bullying?

This project involved the conduct of a rapid review of the literature, a survey with 1528 Australian employees, and a Delphi process with experts in workplace bullying. Results of the three phases were combined to address each of the research questions.

Conclusions and recommendations

The results of the three phases of research from this project provide insight into strategies that may be effective in preventing and managing workplace bullying. A consistent theme that emerged from the research is that workplace bullying tends to be framed from an individual personality and psychology of behaviour perspective. The researcher’s rapid review and Delphi results suggested a need for a paradigm shift towards an organisational culture approach to workplace bullying, in which structures, cultures and frameworks are created to support good behaviour in the workplace and prevent or mitigate workplace bullying.

Furthermore, consistent themes relating to a need to engage and empower employers and employees, and to promote a positive workplace culture that does not support bullying emanated from the research. The researchers therefore proposed that social marketing – “a strategic multi-component, marketing based approach to social policy selection and development that aims to influence personal, community and organisational behaviour” offers a useful framework for tackling workplace bullying (French and Gordon, 2014, p1).

Eighteen recommendations based on a social marketing framework were provided to guide the prevention and management of workplace bullying. These recommendations incorporate the following key themes:

  • Organisations need to identify and target the cultural and organisational factors that enable the occurrence of workplace bullying.
  • Empowerment of employees through communication and clear policies is needed to better address workplace bullying. 
  • There is a need for clear and succinct workplace bullying policies that are implemented and backed up by strong leadership.
  • Adequate training should be provided for front-line managers and supervisors to prevent and deal with instances of workplace bullying.
  • Cases of workplace bullying should be investigated and dealt with in a timely manner.
  • Organisations need to ensure that action is taken in response to workplace bullying; this should involve a balance of probability approach.
  • Organisations need to continually monitor and refine their strategies regarding workplace bullying.

Download the Workplace bullying in Australia report

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