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Workplace Bullying Facts and Statistics

(Note: Further facts and statistics about bullying in the workplace can be obtained from prior research (2010) by Know Bull! in the 17-page, Extent & Effects of Workplace Bullying Survey Report.  A 2-page Summary of Key Findings is also available for download.) 

The 2010 research conducted by Know Bull! not only supported current workplace bullying findings, but revealed alarming information about staff suicide resulting from the effects of workplace bullying; and the (then) imperative for workplace bullying having its own ‘criminal category’ via the introduction of a ‘new’ statutory course of action encompassing the notion of 'the deliberate and/or intentional infliction of a hostile work environment'...under which organisations, and workplace bullies could be prosecuted. 

Bullying in the workplace - on the increase; largely 'unaddressed'; and wreaking 'havoc' on staff, and company and organisational productivity...
Bullying in the workplace not only affects staff — it can also affect organisations in their ability to operate.  Yet despite this, research indicates that far from being curbed — bullying in the workplace is on the increase. Even as far back as 2001, Drake Personnel, one of Australia's leading employment agencies said in an interview that, "the antics of one serial bully in the workplace had the potential to reduce the performance of their victims by half, and that of other employees by up to 33%" [17 Apr 2001].

In fact, in 2005 WorkCover (ACT) estimated the dollar 'cost' of workplace bullying saying, "The financial cost of workplace bullying to business in Australia is estimated to be between $6 billion and $13 billion a year." This includes indirect costs, such as absenteeism, labour turnover, loss of productivity and legal costs.  Accordingly, "the average cost for a stress claim is $41,186 compared to $23,441 for a physical injury claim." [28 Sep 2005].  

The Australian Human Rights Commission believes that the 'cost' could be even higher, with their online 'Workplace Bullying' fact sheet estimating that "workplace bullying costs Australian employers between $6 - $36 billion dollars every year when hidden and lost opportunity costs are considered." [Australian Human Rights Commission]. 

Further, a
Safe Work Australia (SWA) report has found bullying levels in Australian workplaces are substantially higher than international rates. The (AWB) project included responses from 5,743 workers from six states and territories (excluding Qld and Vic) stated "nearly 42% of males reported being sworn or yelled at in the workplace; more than 20% of workers were humiliated in front of others; almost 20% experienced discomfort due to sexual humour; 6.9% of women experienced unwanted sexual advances; and 14.8% of women experienced unfair treatment due to gender." [Occupational Health News, 28 Feb 2013]

Groundbreaking research in the US by the Workplace Bullying Institute revealed some disturbing facts about the prevalence of workplace bullying and its effects. One of the major findings of the 2007 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey — the largest scientific survey of bullying in the US — was that "Bullying is 4 (four) times more prevalent than illegal, discriminatory harassment," which includes such things as discrimination due to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, or age. Other findings included that the 'stereotype' of the 'bully boss' was very real, with 72% of bullies being bosses, and 55% of those bullied being rank-and-file workers; and that with regard to turnover "40% of bullied workers voluntarily leave", while "Targets lose their jobs to make the bullying stop in 77% of cases." 

Coincidentally, the existence of the 'bully boss' is also supported by other organisations and campaigns such as the UK's 'Ban Bullying at Work' campaign, which stated that "Bullies tend to be in a position of power" [29 Oct 2007]; and by the latest research conducted by Know Bull! which found that "an ‘active’ bully exists in 66.6% of workplaces - and is more likely to be a boss" [Extent and Effects of Workplace Bullying Survey]. Disturbingly, the Know Bull! Survey also found that 83.3% of these ‘boss bullies’ don’t act alone – preferring to operate as a bully group, or ‘mob’." [Extent and Effects of Workplace Bullying 30 May 2010]. Interestingly, this 'bully boss mob' mentality...where senior managers and/or board members 'protect' one another's backs and/or deny the existence of workplace bullying...was highlighted in Australia's most publicised case of Sexual Harassment, and Workplace Bullying - the David Jones $37million law suit by a former employee. [Also see the Know Bull article
: The psychopath in the corner office: The CEO Bully].

Perhaps one of the most salient findings of the U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey is that "Bullies bully with near impunity, experiencing negative consequences in only 23% of cases." [Sept 2007, U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey]. The Know Bull! Survey Report: Extent and Effects of Workplace Bullying also found found that workplace bullies receive tacit approval to continue their behaviour, with 50% of employers taking no action when a workplace bullying claim is made, and a further 12.5% actually promoting the workplace bully. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that these employers (a total of 62.5%) are simply 'adding' to the 'problem' of workplace bullying.

A brief profile of a potential bully 'target' - far from being the 'spectacled, nerdy wimp' - they pose a perceived 'threat' to bullies...

In contrast to the 'bully boss', the stereotype of the 'nerdy' bully target' is far removed.  While the 'targets' of workplace bullies do share a number of common characteristics, these traits generally paint 'targets' as being: ethical, just, fair, well-liked, highly personable, strong, independent, intelligent and self-assured people. [Workplace Bullying Institute]. The Know Bull! Survey: Extent and Effects of Workplace Bullying also found certain characteristics in both workplace bullies, and their 'targets', that correlate with the research by the Workplace Bullying Institute.

"Indeed," stated Dr Mark Hayes in an article in Webdiary (04 Feb 2007), "the literature suggests that workplace bullies tend to be threatened by their targets in various ways and to deal with the threat, bullies seek to control, contain, or even remove the threat, all the while getting off on the torment they are causing. The threat can actually be the target's productivity, skills, talent, popularity with peers and even superiors, which, completely inadvertently, shows up the bully's inadequacies. Like whistleblowers, the bully's target may well have a strong conscience which all but drives them to speak and act truthfully because they cannot act in any other way. The target must be put in their place."

Former anti-bullying website, Beyond Bullying (New Zealand), also emphasised the 'perception' of 'threat', stating, "A Target is an individual who by accident has the desirable qualities of competence, networking and emotional intelligence. This individual is selected as an object towards which the Workplace Bully can direct an unrelenting stream of harm — mainly subtle and some obvious — in order to reduce the Target’s performance and self esteem while increasing the Workplace Bully’s own view of her/his own self importance.  For the Workplace Bully, the Target is perceived as a threat".

Unfortunately, the workplace bully literature suggests "that the worse an offender a workplace bully is, the harder they can be to cure", and that perhaps it may even be "impossible [to] help them learn how to mitigate or control, their behaviour. They can even have their behaviour reinforced if their employing institution rewards them with promotion or salary bonuses, or simply ignores the damage they are doing." [04 Feb 2007].

Definitions and some of the behaviours that comprise 'workplace bullying'...
There are various definitions of what constitutes 'workplace bullying', although the general consensus is that the behaviour encompass: 
• planned mistreatment in the form of verbal abuse; conduct that is threatening, intimidating, or humiliating; or sabotage that interferes with work (or any combination of these)
• the bullying behaviour is 'repeated' and 'persistent' and not usually a 'one-off' occurrence; 
• the effects of the bullying are 'health harming' - either physical, emotional or both.

Other definitions include:
• "...a repeated and persistent destructive process of attempts by one (or several) person to torment, wear down, frustrate, get a reaction from another or exclude him or her from the work environment. It is treatment that provokes, pressures, frightens, intimidates and through its repetition leads to devastating effects. [Brodsky, C.M. (1976). The harassed worker. Toronto: Lexington Books]. [5 May 2007]
• "...the accumulation, over a long period of time of hostile proposals (and behaviours) expressed by one or several people towards a third person at work (the target) [Leyman, H. (1984). 'The silencing of a skilled technician'. Working Environment, 4, 236–238, in Hazards to health: The problem of workplace bullying]. [5 May 2007], and 
• "any negative behaviour that demonstrates a lack of regard for other workers, including harassment, incivility, teasing, gossiping, purposely withholding business information, overruling decisions without a rationale, sabotaging team efforts, demeaning others and verbal intimidation."  [Original Source: 20 Nov 2007, PRNewswire, Milwaukee]. 
• The Australian definition for 'workplace bullying' came to pass with the 2014 anti-bullying legislation. The Fair Work Commission stated the following in their Benchbook (published 4 Jan 2014):

Definition of bullying
See Fair Work Act s.789FD(1)
Workplace bullying occurs when:
• an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work,

• the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Workplace bullying states that bullying behaviour can fall under any combination of 5 'categories' of bullying behaviour, which include "threats to professional status, threats to personal standing, isolation, overwork and destabilisation." [Rayner, C., Hoel, H. & Cooper, C.L. (2002). Workplace bullying. London: Taylor & Francis]. [5 May 2007].

Workplace Bullying said to be a key factor in up to 100 million working days lost in UK...
According to a comment in 2008
by the Chartered Management Institute (UK) "The latest Government estimates put the cost to the UK economy of workplace bullying at...100 million days lost in productivity", while a comment by a staff member at the Andrea Adams Trust (UK) said "90% of those absent from work due to bullying tell employers their absence was the result of some other kind of illness." [06 Aug 2008, UK].

Statistics published in December 2007 by the UK 'Ban Bullying At Work Day' show that one in four people have been bullied at some point in their working lives, and new research indicates this figure may be as high as one in two. [03 Dec 2007, UK].

An online article of The British Psychological Society's publication The Psychologist, supports the view that some sectors are more prone than others, stating that "...certain occupational groups have also been identified as being more vulnerable to bullying than others. Various studies (Hoel & Cooper, 2000; McAvoy & Murtagh, 2003; Quinne, 1999; Westhuses, 2004) have shown that bullying is more prevalent within the prison service, the healthcare and education sectors and amongst postal and telecommunications workers." [In Hazards to health: The problem of workplace bullying,  5 May 2007].

The high 'cost' of workplace bullying - 100 million UK working days lost; companies losing hundreds of Billions annually; 71.5 million US workers affected; Bullying law suits claiming more than $1 million - why companies and organisations should take notice...

Putting the 'human' cost aside for a moment..."Bullying at work costs businesses £18bn every year," Royal & Sun Alliance (R&SA), the UK’s largest commercial insurer, reported in 2007  Further, R&SA stated that bullying in the workplace had become a major cause of employee stress, and represented a financial 'cost' to individual companies of 8-10% of their annual profits; plus, it leaves companies open to "the threat of expensive litigation". This was further supported by a study, published by the Chartered Management Institute (2008), which estimated "100 million days lost in productivity".

The Workplace Law Network website (a membership site for UK employers and managers, specialising in employment law, health and safety and premises management), cites their own research: "despite formal policies and government-backed schemes to tackle the problem," new research reveals that "Nearly two thirds of Britons (73%) have been bullied at work or seen someone else undergoing it...". [30 Jan 2009]. This was echoed in research conducted by solicitors Slater & Gordon which revealed "m
ore than half of UK workers have experienced bullying", and "that more than two thirds of those who witnessed bullying said their colleague was subjected to a sustained period of harassment." Further, the annual Bullying Survey of the UK's youth reveals that "54% have been bullied at some point". [2017].

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), a Washington State-based non-profit group serving the U.S. and Canada, states that around "37 percent of U.S. workers have reported being bullied on the job , and 49 percent say they have witnessed a bully in action", representing a staggering 86% of the workforce being affected by bullying in the workplace.  The WBI, who defines bullying as "repeated, health-harming verbal abuse; threatening, humiliating or offensive behavior; and work interference, including sabotage, that prevents work from getting done,'' estimates that as many as 71.5 million Americans are affected by bullying in the workplace. [25 Aug 2012]

The potential dollar 'cost' to American based companies is even more startling.  With an estimated 1 million workers in the US absent daily due to stress, Dr Paul Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress (AIS), said 'We estimate it [stress]  costs American industry $300 billion a year in terms of diminished productivity, employee turnover and insurance."  

A Safe Work Australia (SWA) report found that "depression cost Australian employers about $8bn a year because of sickness absence and presenteeism, of which $693m was due to job strain and bullying. It said workers who showed mild symptoms of depression took twice as many sick days as those who showed no symptoms. Academics predicted stress-related illnesses, such as depression and cardiovascular disease, would be the leading causes of the global disease burden by 2020." [28 Feb 2013]

The reality, is that people do not contribute their best when they fear harassment, bullying or abuse, plus companies risk replacement costs when people leave, often face legal costs and suffer because of reduced productivity and commitment. 

And according to the Crisis Prevention Institute (USA).  "...research has clearly demonstrated that when targets believe someone at work has treated them disrespectfully, half will lose work time worrying about future interactions with the instigator, and half will contemplate changing jobs to avoid a recurrence. Most will tell friends, family and colleagues about how badly they have been treated, and some targets of bullying will leave the company".  [20 Nov 2007, PRNewswire, Milwaukee].

Some sectors, such as teaching, appear to have an extraordinarily 'high' concentration of bullying in the workplace — with research by Australia's University of New England (UNE) finding in an online survey of both private and government schools — that 90% of teachers have been bullied by colleagues. The survey, which sought input from teachers from throughout Australia, also found " that a fifth of respondents had had their property damaged or had been physically abused or threatened with violence", and that over 90% "had suffered mentally or physically because of abuse." [30 Nov 2007,  ABC Online News].

The bottom line is that workplace bullies are just far too expensive to keep.  And Australian organisations would be wise to pay careful attention to the spate of workplace bully law suits taking place where claims in excess of one million dollars are being sought — if only to realise, according to Business Spectator, that "developing bullying at work policies and challenging existing corporate cultures is now no longer just a human resources function: it is a risk management function that needs to involve corporate boards. For investors, bullying at work is becoming a key risk that needs to be monitored in order to protect shareholder value". [03 Apr 2008, Australia].

Bullying is not a legitimate type of management 'style' - far from it...

According to  research released by the (UK) Ban Bullying At Work campaign, "two thirds of managers believe that a lack of management skills is the major factor contributing to bullying," while other contributory factors include such things as, "unrealistic targets (27%), authoritarian management styles (56%), personality (57%), and failure to address incidents (37%)." [2 Nov 2007].

The Workplace Bullying Institute (US) adds, "bullying isn't the same as tough management, but rather dumping misery on someone else."  Recent research by the Institute has found that targets often suffered anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress — while costing employers millions in stress-related illnesses, absences and lost productivity.  "Verbal abuse, or conduct that is threatening, intimidating or humiliating — it is the undermining of somebody's work, it is sabotage," said the Institute's, Dr Gary Namie.  [1 Nov 2007, Washington]. 

And from Dr Mark Hayes, "Workplace bullying has nothing whatsoever to do with 'tough management', 'employee motivation', 'productivity improvement' and similar nonsense. It's actually an incompetent, dysfunctional manager or supervisor who believes they must resort to crude threats or intimidation to encourage their staff, or who rationalises their (bullying) behaviour in these ways." [04 Feb 2007].

People do get murdered at work...and suicides occur 
In a former media release [20 Nov 2007, PRNewswire, Milwaukee], the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), found that one quarter ( 24.5%) of the companies surveyed reported incidents of bullying during the prior year.  In most incidents the victim was an employee (55.2%), while customers (10.5%), and supervisors (7%) were frequently listed as victims also.  Even more concerning is that "Each week in the United States, an average of 33,000 workers are assaulted on the job and 14 are murdered", with "worker-on-worker (or boss) violence" accounting for "about 8% of workplace homicides" [NIOSH, 18 Jul 2011].

A 2007 Seminar titled, Workplace Homicide: Extreme Reactions to Toxic Work Environments, explores a number of US workplace related homicides and posits the question: "
What if it is the workplace that turns certain individuals into dangerous people?" While not excusing the terrible wrongs committed, the content of the seminar attempts to show that while mass murderers in the workplace are often portrayed (post event) as the lone, psychologically-unhinged killer, that "At the same time, these acts are often in response to years of bullying or mobbing by peers and bosses, combined with fear of job loss", and that "Many of these workplace tragedies could have been avoided if those in charge had done more to ensure positive and healthy relations in the workplace, rather than taking part in or encouraging negative ones".

After one such shooting in Arizona a Manager stated, "You’re trying to make rational sense out of an irrational act and a person as bent on destruction" (view associated short video, Murder By Proxy - 2mins 20s). Further, after another shooting in Ottawa a similar statement was made by a
government official who said, “Four innocent citizens of this community were killed by a lone gunman…. No law or social system could have predicted or prevented what took place and there are no guarantees that such an incident will not occur again".

Workplace bullying and especially 'mobbing', which is an extremely traumatic event for the 'target' serious. It can lead to workplace homicides, and suicide as revealed in Know Bull! research. For far too long, 'targets' of workplace bullying are blamed their own deterioriation. In extreme cases, where the 'target' believes they have no option but to take matters into their own hands, it's understandable how these acts of violence can occur. But as this seminar concluded, "
Yet, to blame these cases of workplace homicide solely on the psychological problems of the assailants lifts the blame from the managers who allowed a toxic workplace to arise and persist." [2007]

Know Bull! research in the 2010 17-page, Extent & Effects of Workplace Bullying Survey Report addressed the health harming effects of workplace bullying. This report revealed that 4 out of 5 bully targets suffer depression and sleeping problems after bullying. This was closely followed by ‘anxiety’ indicated by 76.47% of bully targets, and ‘constant fatigue’ (58.82%). Of greater concern, is that 5.5%, or (1 in 20) bully targets had ‘suicidal thoughts’ after having been exposed to workplace bullying, while 16.6% of respondents said that they had known of, or worked with a staff member who, after being targeted by a workplace bully, later committed suicide.

Further, a newspaper article announcing the pending Australian
Bill to stop workplace bullies stated, "In 2012, more than 2500 people committed suicide in Australia, including 450 children. In more than 80 per cent of cases, bullying was a contributing factor." [SMH, 16 Mar 2013]

The 'fear' of speaking about workplace bullying...

An online article published in 2007 by Edinburgh News said, "recent surveys show bullying is on the increase at work" and, more alarming, "that a high proportion of those bullied feel they can't speak to anyone about it". [13 Dec 2007, Edinburgh News]. 

And the 'fear' about speaking up may be well founded, with a survey conducted by Zogby on behalf of the Workplace Bullying Institute (p10), revealed that despite losing an estimated 21-28 million workers because of bullying, "In 62 percent of the cases, when made aware of bullying, employers worsen the problem or simply do nothing".

In the Australian context, workplace bullying was declared to be on the 'increase' from around 2001 with the release of the 2001 Trade Union Survey Report indicating that "more than half of the respondents...reported an unhappy and oppressive workplace, with 44% saying they were afraid to speak up." [Teaching Treasures].

Organisations are not doing enough to identify and combat bullying and violence in the workplace... 

"Workplace bullying is on the rise, yet despite the prevalence of bullying and its damaging impact, organizational responses are spotty, at best," says the Crisis Prevention Institute (USA).  [20 Nov 2007]. 

The reality, is that workplace bullying can happen in almost any employment scenario, with "the most affected industries being those with a very hierarchical management structure, high pressure jobs where staff can be seen as fairly expendable and also in very small, sometimes family-run businesses which fall beneath the radar of union involvement and have no policies on bullying."  [7 Nov 2007].

In light of statistics showing that one in four people have been bullied at some point in their working lives, and with research indicating this figure could be as high as one in two — UK employment law specialists MHL Support stated, "It is very important that employers protect themselves and their employees from harassment and bullying in the workplace.  It is necessary to have policies and procedures in place to deal with any instances and to ensure that all employees are aware of them. All complaints should be taken seriously, investigated and appropriate action taken. Equally, management should take responsibility to create a working environment that is free from harassment and bullying". [3 Dec 2007, UK].

Further, according to a survey conducted in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding workplace violence prevention, while nearly five percent of the 7.1 million private industry business establishments surveyed in the United States had an incident of workplace violence within the 12 months prior to the survey — about one third of these "did not change their workplace violence prevention procedures after the incident", and almost "9 percent...had no program or policy addressing workplace violence" whatsoever. [20 Nov 2007, PRNewswire, Milwaukee].

From the Australian workplace perspective, Harmer's Workplace Lawyers stated in Lawyer's Weekly Online, “If bullying is occurring in a work environment, it is up to the employer to change the culture of the workplace — or face the consequences. If an employee is too scared to talk to their boss, or their boss’ boss about a bullying incident, the employer may be liable...The courts do not look favourably upon any organisation, regardless of size, that has an incident of bullying, but has no policy or procedure in place informing its employees how to deal with and report incidents of bullying or harassment. Similarly, employers must ensure such policies are very clearly understood, and enforced. [14 Jun 2007, Lawyer's Weekly Online]. 

The above statement by Harmer's Workplace Lawyers can be seen 'in action' with recent Australian cases such as DJ's $37million law suit; and Air Services combined $2million law suit by 2 employees.

"We are challenging businesses to speak out against bullying to create workplaces where employees can see clearly that bullying behaviours will not be tolerated," says Lyn Witheridge, CEO of the UK-based 'Ban Bullying At Work' campaign, "We want to inspire managers to speak out and instill a culture where business is not frightened to stand-up to the bullies." [2 Nov 2007].

"Any business that has no specific formal route for an employee to tackle bullying and harassment is open to a contractual breach of the duty of care," says the UK-based Andrea Adams Trust. [7 Nov 2007, Yorkshire Eveining Post - Archived Article].

Australian anti-bullying legislation - brief historical perspective...
From a historical perspective, all Australian States and Territories followed in the footsteps of the UK during the 1970’s and 80’s in a total overhaul of their OH & S legislation and regulatory framework following the release of the Robens Report in 1972 (This report was extremely influential in the reform of OH & S in the UK at the time).

Since then
, Australian Occupational Health & Safety was regulated by the States and Territories, who had the responsibility of making and enforcing the OH&S laws in the form of Acts and Regulations.  The various Acts and Regulations outlined the key duties of both employers and employees.  Since workplace bullying and occupational violence creates unsafe working environments and poses a risk to employees' health — employers' obligations extended to eliminating or reducing the risk of bullying and violence in their workplaces — in other words, employers had a specific statutory duty to take 'all reasonably practicable steps' to protect their employees' health, safety and welfare.  

On 5th April 2011, the Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011 was tabled in the Parliament of Victoria (Australia).  On 1st June 2011 The Crimes Amendment (Bullying) Bill 2011, was passed by Victorian Members of Parliament - making this the first law of its kind in Australia to cover all forms of workplace bullying - including threats, and abusive language. Under this law, workplace bullying in Victoria is now a crime, carrying a penalty up to 10 years' jail for those found guilty. 

By May 2012 Australia's then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced a national review into workplace bullying. The Parliamentary committee report that followed, Workplace Bullying: We Just Want it to Stop
was tabled October 2012. By March 2013 the Australian Federal Government proposed an amendment (The Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013) to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

As time reveals, the changes Know Bull! heralded in 2010 became a reality, when t
he new, national 'Bully Laws' came into effect, from 1st January 2014. Note:  For further information, see the opinion piece on the new anti-bullying legislation, by the Founder of Know Bull!

The new laws mean that, organisations in Australia, for the first time, will be subject to the powers of the Fair Work Commission, as well as work health and safety (WHS) regulators for workplace bullying.

For further information about Australia's national anti-bullying legislation see:

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