Workplace bullying at the University of Newcastle is unacceptable
The information in this guide outlines the University of Newcastle's expectations of its staff and affiliates in relation to conduct that may constitute workplace bullying. All staff have a right to work in an environment free from bullying, and to be treated with dignity and respect.
The University's Diversity and Inclusiveness Policy provides a definition of behaviours that may constitute workplace bullying and standards of behaviour expected of all members of the University community to avoid and prevent bullying, discrimination, harassment, vilification and victimisation.
This online guide supports the Policy and outlines ways to resolve concerns and complaints in relation to workplace bullying.
What is workplace bullying?
In November 2012, the Australian Government's House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment tabled its report on the inquiry into workplace bullying entitled Workplace Bullying "We just want it to stop".
The report proposed a national standard definition of workplace bullying that the University of Newcastle has adopted in its Diversity and Inclusiveness Policy: Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.
What is the impact of bullying in the workplace?
Bullying can result in real costs to both the individual and organisation and constitutes a significant risk to health, safety and well-being. The Productivity Commission, the Australian Government's independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues affecting the welfare of Australians, estimates that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion every year and costs employers an average of $17,000 to $24,000 per case.
What does not constitute bullying in the workplace?
When talking about bullying, it is very important to remember what bullying is not. Workplace counselling, providing constructive feedback, managing performance or any other reasonable action in accordance with the Policy, does not constitute bullying. Differences of opinion, interpersonal conflicts and problems in working relations are part of working life and also do not constitute workplace bullying.
It is important to distinguish between your manager (supervisor) exercising their legitimate authority at work, in a proper and reasonable way, and instances of bullying. Management action is reasonable if done fairly, transparently and in line with approved processes. Feedback provided appropriately with the intention of helping to improve work performance, behaviour, or directing and monitoring workflow, does not constitute bullying.
In acceptable workplace interactions the following may occur:
- reasonable comment, advice or administrative action from supervisors or academic and teaching staff on work, academic performance or behaviour
- reasonable disciplinary action, carried out in a fair and respectful manner
- the implementation of organisational change
- difference of opinion between individuals.
Managers and supervisors in the workplace have a responsibility to direct and control how work is done in the following ways:
- allocate job-appropriate work to staff
- negotiate performance goals, standards and deadlines
- roster and allocate working hours to meet organisational needs
- transfer staff
- make decisions about who does and does not get promoted or recognised in other ways such as awards
- inform a staff member about unsatisfactory work performance
- inform a staff member about inappropriate behaviour
- implement organisational change
- execute performance management processes
- provide constructive feedback.
It is important that managers (supervisors) are sensitive about how they are perceived by others and know the best ways to communicate difficult or sensitive matters. In some situations, behaviour can unintentionally cause distress and be perceived as workplace bullying.
Examples of workplace bullying
Workplace bullying can be directed at a staff member, manager, supervisor or colleague. Bullying behaviour can be intended to humiliate, offend, intimidate or distress, but sometimes it can be unintended.
A broad range of repeated behaviours may constitute either direct or indirect bullying, including, but not limited to:
- physical or verbal abuse towards a person or group of people
- yelling, screaming or offensive language
- spreading rumour or innuendo about someone
- excluding or isolating staff
- unjustified criticism or complaints
- psychological harassment
- undermining work performance by deliberately withholding information that is vital for effective work performance
- deliberately changing work arrangements, such as rosters and leave, to inconvenience a particular employee
Cyberbullying is using technology deliberately to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person. It can include abusive texts and emails, posting unkind messages or images, inappropriate online discussions, and inappropriate image tagging.
Cyberbullying can be particularly damaging because it is primarily online and can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs are important tools used by the University to communicate with its students, staff, communities and other stakeholders. The University's Social Media Communication Policy provides a framework for participation in social media by University staff and students.
Read what Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline McMillen has to say about cyberbullying.