Is your workplace culture costing you?

Workplace stress is now being recognised as a growing problem in today’s workplaces with it coming in as the second most compensated illness or injury. The psychological stressors that contribute to such stress can be attributed to a range of factors from organisational practices, workplace change and workplace bullying.

The existence of increasing competition, push for more efficiencies and downsizing create toxic environments where workplace bullying can thrive. Workplace bullying has received increasing attention within the work health and safety arena and is now considered a major problem in many industries.

The cold hard facts!

  • It is estimated that the annual cost of workplace bullying in Australia ranges between $6 and $36 billion every year.
  • Workplace bullying is prevalent in between 3.5 per cent and 21 per cent of Australian workers.
  • Being subjected to workplace bullying doubles the risk of having suicidal thoughts.
  • Mental stress can play a leading role in developing musculoskeletal disorders

The underlying problem

Workplace bullying is defined as ‘repeated unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers that creates risk to health and safety’. Bullying is seen as a frequent occurrence that is generally long term in nature and intensifies as time goes on intending to make the victim feel powerless, intimidated or humiliated. While a key in defining workplace bullying is “repeated” behaviour it should be understood that single events where unreasonable behaviour is identified have a significant potential to escalate into workplace bullying and as such should not be ignored.

Currently workplace bullying seems to be condoned in a lot of organisations and is just simply written off as ‘management’s style’ or it can be entrenched in the organisational culture ie ‘that’s just what we do around here, we’re only kidding’. It’s obvious that more needs to be done to address workplace bullying and that simply maintaining the ‘status quo’ is no longer acceptable.

What is workplace bullying costing your organisation?

The common perception of workplace bullying is that it only affects those directly involved i.e. the victim and the bully; however studies have shown that the impact of bullying is not only widespread but can be felt right throughout an organisation.

Organisational cultures where workplace bullying thrives can expect to experience low morale and lack of support from their workers, which in return increases the risk of other workplace injuries and fosters an unsafe psychological working environment. Workplace bullying bears many costs for organisations both directly and indirectly.

Direct costs include:

  • Absenteeism
  • Loss of productivity
  • Presenteeism

Hidden costs can include:

  • Re-staffing and re-skilling of workers due to turnover of both victims and bystanders.
  • Increased workers compensation premiums as the cost of mental health stress claims are twice that of other workers compensation claims.

Legislative changes

With workplace bullying continuing to be an issue for Australian business recent attention has been given to the way in which legislation and guidelines address this issue. The WHS Act seeks highlights through the inclusion of the definition of health as both physical and mental reinforcing that workplaces needs to be free from both physical and psychological hazards. Therefore under the harmonised legislation, organisations have a ‘duty of care’ to recognise workplace bullying as a risk and take reasonable steps to ensure the emotional and mental health of its workers.

Workers can also apply to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) for an order to stop the bullying. The FWC can make any order it considers appropriate if it finds that the worker has been bullied at work and that there is a risk that the worker will continue to be bullied at work. If the subject of an order by the FWC does not comply, that is a contravention of the Fair Work Act which may result in civil contravention proceedings and potentially fines.

How to create a good working culture

Managing workplace bullying is a complex issue that presents many challenges for an organisation. When managing workplace bullying the key lies within a consistent and clear process which should be broken down into a systematic risk management process. This should include:

  • Identifying bullying risk factors.
  • Fostering an organisational culture that is supportive and committed to prevention this should be documented in an organisations code of conduct, policies and procedures.
  • Encouraging open communication and consultation with workers and encourage them to contribute to work health and safety management.
  • Providing training and information
  • Establish an effective complaint handling process and support system


1. Performance Benchmarking of Australian Business Regulation; Occupational Health and Safety, Productivity Commission Research Report, March 2010, pg 279-301.
2. ‘Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying’. Draft Code of Practice. Safe Work Australia. 2011.
3. ‘Preventing and Responding to Bullying at Work’. WorkCover NSW20094.
4. The Incidence of Accepted Workers Compensation Claims for Mental Stress in Australia, Safe Work Australia, April 2013.