Schoolyard to workplace bullying needs more examination Reply


Australian Academic Press has forwarded a bullying article, written by Stephen May, that links together many of the themes of its authors with the topicality of recent statements on schoolyard bullying by the Queensland Attorney General, Jarrod Bleijie. The statements on schoolyard bullying seem reasonable and bullying at school is an established hazard but extrapolating these to the workplace is a questionable leap. Thankfully Australian Academic Press’ list has workplace bully texts.

“Young bullies who don’t learn why such behaviour is wrong will likely remain as bullies into adulthood.”

This statement reflects a common assumption but fails to consider the dramatically different legislative, organisational, cultural, social and personal differences between school and work. Schools have a different type of duty of care that requires nurturing, encouragement and psychological development. The teachers, the equivalent of managers or workplace supervisors, have more of a mentoring role than exists in most workplaces. The relationships are less Jedi and Padawan and more colleagues or, in some industries, mates.

It is likely to be more informative if research is undertaken to determine the extent of the transference of bullying from school to bullying in the workplace. If there are school bullies who are also workplace bullies there must also be many school bullies who do not act the same at work. With the amount of attention given to bullying in general these ratios or percentages should be available.

The article says that psychologist, Evelyn Field believes that

“…the destructive and evil effects of adult bullying can produce such a damaging emotional state that it can lead to a total breakdown of a person’s very survival mechanisms. Field is thus unapologetic about tackling bullies head-on and provides no-nonsense advice on protecting yourself at work. She is scathing in her opinion of some business and legal practices she sees as perpetuating bullying behaviour.”

There is no doubt that many adults feel damaged by workplace bullying. Anyone who attended the recent Parliamentary hearings into workplace bullying heard first-hand of this damage. It was confronting and heartrending. But “tackling bullies head-on” can be fraught with danger and this focus on personal action may not fit with the various OHS requirements and guidances.

Many psychologists who lecture and write on this field of study seem to discount the OHS context yet it was workplace safety regulators and official guidance that provided a legislative obligation to eliminate bullying and its potential psychological harm. Regardless of the merits of recent changes to the Fair Work Act on workplace bullying, this matter has spread from OHS to industrial relations, perhaps in recognition of the complexity of the hazard and its control.

Psychologists predominantly address the personal rather than the organisational yet it is the organisation, the leadership, that is increasingly coming under the attention of incident investigators and regulators for harm and injury prevention.

Fields can legitimately be angry at legal and business practices but these practices may create bullying anew and not necessarily perpetuate bullying behaviour. Seeing workplace bullying as an extension of school bullying limits the available control options and preventive strategies.

Thankfully Australian Academic Press balances its list with books by Dr Moira Jenkins and Leanne Faraday-Brash that take the more effective organisational approach to workplace bullying. No books, guidances or reports into workplace bullying should be read in isolation but the two above should be included in any reading list.

Such a reading list on workplace bullying must also include titles over time. The most recent perspectives on workplace bullying prevention benefit enormously from earlier works, from different publishers and broader perspectives, such as Insidious Workplace Behavior by Jerald Greenberg, or some of the works of Vaughan Bowie such as Workplace Violence or Violence at Work or Workplace Violence: A Second Look, or some of the Australian research and books by Chris Peterson or Claire Mayhew.

The books above are part of the resources that governments draw on in the development of workplace bullying policies so it is useful to keep up to date with how controls have changed, how definitions have evolved and some of the evidence behind spruikers, motivational speakers and newspapers report.

It is also very important that one remains focused on the hazard of workplace bullying and not be distracted by some of the bullying technologies such as cyberbullying, or the extension of schoolyard bullying into the workplace, at least until there is better evidence of this transition.

Kevin Jones

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