A recent article on workplace bullying by the CEO of Diversity Council Australia, Nareen Young, is a good introduction to the issue but, as with many other articles on the issue, the content requires careful consideration.

One statistical resource used on workplace bullying articles is the very important and influential March 2010 Productivity Commission (PC) report – Performance Benchmarking of Australian Business Regulation: Occupational Health & Safety.  Predominantly, this report lumps together “harassment”, “occupational violence”, and “fatigue” with “workplace bullying” under the term “psychosocial hazards”.  This means it is impossible to extrapolate data from any specific workplace issue in this category, however the PC report does devote some sections of Chapter 11 specifically to bullying, but even then the statistics are tricky.

Young’s article states that

“Estimates of its [bullying’s] prevalence in the workplace vary, but one study outlined in the Productivity Commission’s 2010 report on benchmarking occupational health and safety estimated that somewhere between 2.5 million and 5 million Australians experience some aspect of bullying over the course of their working lives.”

The figures seem to be correct but the data is only quoted in the PC report not produced by the Productivity Commission itself.  The data comes from the Beyond Bullying Association, and from “using the results of international research”, as the PC report clearly states on page 287

“Using the results of international research, the Beyond Bullying Association in Australia has estimated that somewhere between 2.5 million and 5 million Australians experience some aspect of bullying over the course of their working lives (AHRC 2010).”

“AHRC”, the Australian Human Rights Commission, is referenced as the source but the reference section of the PC report links to a workplace bullying fact sheet from AHRC which does not mention “some aspect of bullying”:

“Using international research, The Beyond Bullying Association, estimates that between 400,000 and two million Australians will be harassed at work (in 2001), while 2.5 to 5 million will experience workplace harassment at some time during their career.”

This quote is in a bullying fact sheet but clearly refers to “harassment” and not “bullying”.  Beyond Bullying Association’s own research has stated the importance of differentiating between workplace bullying and other workplace-related hazards.

Managing human-related hazards in the workplace need to be handled on a hazard-by-hazard basis or by a collective strategy under the title of psychosocial hazards.  Both approaches have advantages and hazards and neither is easy.  Fuzzy statistics do not help the development of a suitable strategy.  These statistics present a strong risk of undercutting good work on important workplace issues.

Kevin Jones