Bullying …Standing Committee Recommendations

There is much attention in the world media as to the financial state of the globe and individual countries and more importantly predictions as to where the world is heading financially. I occasionally read them and conclude I am no wiser at the end of the article than the beginning, but I am sure, someone, somewhere has predicted it correctly, the question is just who?
Well, I don’t have a financial prediction to throw into the hat but I do have a bullying prediction and here it is…My prediction is that in the next 10 years bullying will have the spotlight in workplaces and the number of complaints made will increase significantly and that a government body will be set up to specifically manage bullying in workplaces and schools. WOW…so there, I’ve said it.
If you believe my prediction then in fact a better question to ask is what is the Australian government doing about workplace bullying and what can your organisation do about workplace bullying?

Hundreds of Queenslanders complain about bullying and harassment in the workplace.

photo Joe Armao, Financial Review

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment have just released their national findings titled, Workplace Bullying We Just Want it to Stop. Out of the 23 recommendations the Committee made, here are a few worth noting-
• Standardising the definition of bullying across Australia (there are currently two main definitions used in Australia with minor variations to these two) to the following- “workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.” -Great idea!
• The Commonwealth Government create a national advisory service (this sounds like a variation of the recommendation below)
• Advice material be developed for employers in relation to bullying and how to manage, investigate and document appropriately Great idea!
• The Commonwealth government establish a new national service to provide advice, assistance and resolution services to employers and workers Great idea! (my prediction…which I promise I made before I read the report!)
• Encourage all States and territories to develop criminal laws like ‘Brodie’s Law” in Victoria Bad idea!

Most of the recommendations are great, make sense and I really think would help address the huge issue of workplace bullying. As you can see by my comment above there is probably only one area that I don’t agree with and that is criminalising bullying behaviour. I come from a criminal law background and in my experience I generally think (and the research supports it!) that criminal penalties (like prison!) do not work as a deterrent measure. So if we are not using it to stop people from bullying in the first place then the only other main reason we use it is to punish someone…except punishment doesn’t do anything to stop someone from doing it again…so it just doesn’t make sense for me to potentially lock someone up for bullying someone. In addition, it is hardly even mentioned that Brodie’s laws have never once been used in Victoria, they exist yes, but the police have never charged someone for bullying…so that does really beg the question, are they just for appearance?
I think there are lots of other ways that bullying can be addressed outside of the criminal system that could lead to meaningful “punishment” and change in a person’s behaviour than prison.
None of these recommendations are going to happen overnight so the second question is what can an employer do now to minimise bullying behaviour in their workplace? To find this out stay tuned for part 2 next week…