“Loose” workplace bullying statistics published

Workplace bullying policy matters are at their peak in Australia this week as public hearings occur at the House Standing Committee on Education and Employment inquiry into workplace bullying. Several experts on the prevention of workplace bullying will be appearing at these hearings but the topicality also allows others to release or promote data on workplace bullying.

Safety Consultants Australia (SCA) released a “blueprint” on Safety Hazard: Workplace Bullying in March 2012 that has been recirculated this week. The blueprint is a useful example of the care that needs to be taken when summarising data on workplace bullying.

SCA states, IN VERY BIG LETTERS, that the Productivity Commission estimated that

“Workplace Bullying costs Australian employers between $6 – $36 billion every year.”

SCA has released a flyer with the same information in EVEN BIGGER LETTERS however the Productivity Commission’s report Performance Benchmarking of Australian Business Regulation: Occupational Health & Safety (2010)  states on page 279:

“Estimates of the prevalence and cost of psychosocial hazards vary considerably. For example, using international studies as a guide, estimates of the annual cost of workplace bullying to employers and the economy in Australia ranged from $6 billion to $36 billion (in 2000).” (Emphasis added)

There is little, if any Australian evidence of the costs of workplace bullying specifically. The Productivity Commission estimate was based on international studies and the estimate was already ten years old when published by the Productivity Commission.

SCA also quotes NSW Workcover as having “investigated 1165 complaints over a 2 year period” (their emphasis). This may be true as references for the data are not provided but it is curious that the WorkSafe Victoria statistics were not quoted.  As SafetyAtWorkBlog pointed out 12 months ago :

“The most significant statistic is that, of the 6000 reports of workplace bullying within the last 12 months, only 600 warrant further investigation and, of those, around 60 generate a physical inspection of the workplace.”

Workplace bullying statistics from OHS regulators must be treated with considerable care.

The quote above indicates a disconnection between the public perception and understanding of workplace bullying and the reality that, it is hoped, is redressed by the House Standing Committee’s inquiry.

Any statistics about workplace bullying must be clearly referenced and not quoted out of context, as the Productivity Commission example above illustrates.

The blueprint provides a terrific summary of some of the current thinking on workplace bullying and is supported by David Moore and Linda Scott.  David is active on issues such as restorative justice and Linda is a psychologist.

SCA and its legal advisers have been contacted for clarification of some of the statistics quoted.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

6 thoughts on ““Loose” workplace bullying statistics published”

  1. The selective use and/or quoting of statistics can be used to promote various aspects to support one side or another of a critical issue. In the case of bullying, it is important to collect data for various reasons.

    However, given the gaps that exist between an academic and a lay person’s understanding of what is and what is not bullying or harassment, and the gaps that exists in various Codes of Practice that are somehow written into organisational policy, it is little wonder that there is confusion about the actual costs.

    As indicated in various other forums, targets need to remain in control. However, whilst some may take the ‘Do Nothing’ option, data in relation to this aspect may not always be recorded.

    It is always important to consider a number of factors when quoting or using data e.g. size of group being ‘surveyed’, definition/s used, etc.

    As for determing the cost of bullying and/or harassment, in some cases the behaviours may have been ongoing prior to being reported. It might well be the case that data recording only really starts when a WorkCover claim is lodged and recording stops when the matter is finalised in terms of the claim. However, experience tells me that in a number of cases, the behaviours have been ongoing for some time (up to 12 months or more) and the target may be receiving treatment or payments for periods of up to five years after the matter is heard in a Court or Tribunal. The issue is in the recording of evidence or data that will provide a more acurate picture.

    I suspect that in a number of cases, the data presented by various regulatory bodies is heavily reliant on WorkCover claims. It might be far more telling to determine how many incidents are not formally reported and the reasons why they are not reported. It also seems that in some cases, pure data about bullying is linked to other workplace relations issues, so the actual costs become ‘clouded’.

    It does seem that a number of studies into the costs of bullying have factored in a range of issues such as frequency and severity, administrative and prosecution costs etc. It is also important to understand or ‘cost’ action taken. For example, a person is exposed to bullying behaviours and seeks advice from several different sources over a period of time and eventually decides to take some action. How are these costs calculated and exactly what are the costs involved e.g. lost productivity, morale, medical treatment etc.

    At the moment, it is difficult to make valid comparisons and interpretations about bullying when there is a considerable difference in understanding about what is and what is not bullying or harassment.

  2. Re the Worksafe statistics, as I’ve reported elsewhere, the 6000 reports, 600 investigations and 60 site visits does not surprise me. In my wife’s case, when I contacted the Worksafe advisory line they were really only interested in noting the broad details. I however pushed to get the matter investigated, used my Worksafe contacts to find out which senior worksafe officier was responsible, and was able to get that section to accept a 63 page report detailing the matters. With further pressure the work site was visited for 1.5 hours BUT because my wife had been terminated, Worksafe advised they would not proceed further because the chances of getting employees to assist mt wife was lilely to be very low (won’t risk their jobs – in fact we had been told the employer had advised anyone who did assist would risk their job).
    So no surprise for me that there is the 6000, 600, 60 ratio above – and i suspect there is probably another number – 6 – which probably would represent the number of prosecutions attempted

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