When children are experiencing bullying in the playground, or our teens are being bullied across social media, we feel outrage and as a community, we tend to rally behind the victims, advocating for their rights to exist in a world free from victimisation and harassment.

We understand that the emotional, psychological and physical impact of bullying changes the brain chemistry of our children and can impact the way they perceive themselves and the world. Research out of Yale University indicates that bullied victims are seven to nine per cent more likely to consider suicide. We run anti-bullying programs in schools. And yet, when we grow up and enter the workplace, our staunch advocacy for bully victims is silenced.

Workplace bullying is defined as repeated ‘unreasonable behaviour’ directed towards a worker or a group of workers resulting in a risk to health and safety. It often involves an abuse of power and the incidents of bullying are deliberate and targeted with the intent of causing distress.

As adults, we fear being seen as weak, we are afraid of retribution and making the situation worse, and we worry that by acknowledging that we are experiencing bullying, we are admitting a personal failure. For many of us, we suffer it in silence and often, the situation continues to get worse until our performance is impacted so severely that we find ourselves in disciplinary action, or worse, out the door.

The impact of bullying in the workplace is widespread. Beyond the emotional, psychological and physical consequences that the individual feels, repercussions are felt throughout the organisation, with lowered productivity, disruption and broken relationships, together with heightened absenteeism, staff turnover and related costs. With an estimated cost of the average workplace bullying case for employers numbering $ 17k-$ 24k, you would think that genuine prevention would be a priority in the workplace. However, reports indicate that bullying in Australian workplaces continues to be rife.

There are many systems, organisations and watchdogs in place designed to address workplace bullying, and workplace bullying policies are now expected to be included in WHS policies, but even with these in place, employees don’t feel any less alone when faced with a bully. This is largely because the systems and programs that address workplace bullying rarely investigate every claim made, and when they do investigate, they are reportedly handled poorly and are largely focused on the individual rather than the broader systemic problem.

When complaints are made to the relevant state organisation, the investigation focus is on the victim with extensive insurance private investigations and surveillance undertaken, repeated compulsory visits to psychiatrists for assessment after assessment, resulting in victims feeling further victimised, harassed, stalked and at fault while their mental and physical health spirals.

It is time that we stood up for our adult members of our community as much as we do for our children. It’s not okay to be bullied at school, online or at work and we need to start positive conversations of support for those of us experiencing bullying in the workplace and advocating for the rights of our colleagues while demanding organisations be held accountable for their duty of care to their staff. If you or someone you care about needs support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Zoë Wundenberg, www.impressability.com.au

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