Workplace bullying survey of dubious value

A doomsaying workplace bullying survey is doing the rounds of the Australian media on 8 June 2011. The media release accompanying the survey (neither are yet available online), produced for a “web-based employment screening solution” WorkPro, says

“One quarter of employees (23%) say that they have been a victim of bullying or discrimination in the workplace in the last two years,…”

An equally valid interpretation from the same survey figures could be

Three quarters of employees (76%) say that they have not been a victim of bullying or discrimination in the workplace in the last two years.”

The survey is terrific news. Workplace bullying may not be as big a problem in the workplace as recent media reports have led us to believe. But the survey takes the negative perspective and it is the negative that is being reiterated in the media.

It is also important to note that the survey is the latest in a series of similar surveys for the same company yet a comparison of results has not been applied except in a passing reference in the media statement.

The current 2011 media statement quotes the 23% figure above. The 2008 media statement:

“27 per cent of respondents say they feel bullying or discrimination has happened to them within the past two years”.

Good news, the workplace bullying rate in the surveys is trending downwards by 4% over 3 years.

In 2011.

“42 per cent of employees report having witnessed their colleagues being bullied or discriminated against at work”.

In 2008, this figure was 46%.

The 2011 survey found:

“… nearly three quarters (68%) per cent of employees worry about offending colleagues in a discriminatory way, and 23 per cent of employees are unsure about when their own rights are being violated.”

In 2008:

“The research found Australian employees are very aware of workplace sensitivities; almost three quarters (71%) of respondents say they worry about offending colleagues in a discriminatory way, such as on the basis of gender, disability or other distinctive attributes.”

Again, a downward trend, albeit slight.

The 2008 survey

“…surveyed a sample of … employees applying for work through recruitment agencies across Australia, to gain an understanding of the experiences and beliefs about bullying and discrimination among Australian employees today.”

It could be questioned if surveying job hunters is the most appropriate time for research into workplace bullying.

This survey has sought additional marketing topicality in 2011 by linking the results to recent amendments to the Crimes Act, the so-called Brodie’s Law.

Also, the mix of workplace bullying issues with discrimination and equal opportunity matters is curious. It seems unnecessary to complicate a survey on workplace bullying or discrimination by including race, gender and disability, as in the following survey question:

“Do you believe you have ever been bullied at work or discriminated against based on race, gender, disability etc? “

(And what is an etcetera doing in a survey question?)

This question asks about bullying at work but not whether the discrimination was at work.

More useful information would have been gained by splitting each of these criteria into individual questions, such as

  • Do you believe you have ever been bullied at work?
  • Do you believe you have ever been discriminated against at work?
  • Do you believe you have ever been discriminated against based on our race, at work?
  • Do you believe you have ever been discriminated against based on our gender, at work?
  • Do you believe you have ever been discriminated against based on our disability, at work?

All surveys on workplace bullying need close examination, particularly those produced for direct, or indirect, marketing purposes. The current WorkPro survey leaves a lot to be desired.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

2 thoughts on “Workplace bullying survey of dubious value”

  1. The survey is obviously designed to reflect a desired outcome so the beneficiary of the survey results is usually the one touting a service to fit those results.

    The design of the survey is obviously seriously flawed if it was looking to provide a genuine snapshot of a real situation in time and I am sure the Market Research Society of Australia would have an opinion.

  2. Couldn\’t agree more, Kevin. I also wonder if those being questioned have a good understanding about what defines bullying or harassment or discrimination. For my sins I somehow became an EEO officer and, to be honest, I have yet to find sufficient evidence in the those reports I have investigated to justify any action against those accused of bullying, harassing or discriminating. In fact if someone was to be taken to task over their actions it would be those making the accusations. No doubt there are those who abuse their power and do bully and harass and discriminate but I have significant doubts about how widespread this behaviour is.

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