Workplace Bullying and Intimidation – A Health & Safety Perspective

Many employers make the mistake of focusing only on hazards or risks that pose a threat to the physical harm of workers, as this is often very visible and easily identifiable. However, hazards and risks that threaten mental harm should not be overlooked, including bullying, harassment and intimidation in the workplace.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 requires that all risks and hazards in the workplace be actively managed. Statistics tell us only 228 of the approximate 10,000 health and safety incidents escalated to Worksafe between December 2013 and April 2019 related to workplace bullying, yet it is alleged that 1 in 5 workers in New Zealand experience bullying in the workplace. This is probably a fact that anyone who has spent any amount of time in the workplace is well aware of. Bullies exist in most workplaces and many employees or employers have the potential to be a bully if the culture or circumstances of the workplace enables or even encourage this to occur.

The External Independent Review into Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace completed by Debbie Francis in the last few months highlights that the problem of bullying is systemic in even the workplaces where we expect people to have high moral and ethical standards – i.e. the people who run our country. The report will put the spotlight firmly on other employers to “up the ante” on preventing and managing workplace bullying.

The matter of workplace bullying sits firmly in both the Human Resources camp as well as Health and Safety. So while there is a legal obligation to manage any risks and prevent mental harm from a Health and Safety perspective, the mechanism through which this is usually achieved is through managing well the people side of the business (i.e. Human Resources). There are numerous other benefits of maintaining a workplace free of bullying, including increased staff retention, better workplace productivity and an improved team and workplace culture. Workplace bullying can be a destructive force in the workplace if not managed.

If 1 in 5 workers are purportedly subjected to bullying and yet so few incidents related to bullying are escalated to Worksafe, does that mean we are really so good at managing the health and safety part of bullying? Or does this go largely ignored as a much less visible and insidious hazard in the workplace? In some cases it is the most valuable employees in the workplace who engage in bullying, because they are seen as “indispensable” and the power structures in the workplace enable this behaviour to carry on unchallenged. In other cases, inappropriate ways of interacting in the workplace have been going on for so long that they become normalised behaviour and continue unquestioned. What we do know is that times are changing and awareness of the problem and knowing how to deal with it appropriately is key.

If you would like to discuss how we may be able to support you with ways of managing workplace behaviours, call Safe Business Solutions Ltd on freephone 0508 424 723 or email info@safebusiness.co.nz.