Applying Strategies for Dealing with Workplace Bullying Essay

As mentioned in the foreword to this special issue, the articles presented in this section take an applied focus to the problem of workplace bullying. It is not our intention to further summarise the articles at this point. Rather, we turn our attention to some of the ways the problem is being dealt with in some countries as a way of suggesting strategies that might be useful for addressing the problem at a structural level, rather than at the organisational level. Our focus is on socio-political endeavours to influence change in Australia, the Republic of Ireland, Sweden and the UK.

Understanding some of the overarching strategies used provides a focus for the articles presented in this section of the special issue. The article concludes with a brief consideration of some of the legal and economic aspects of the problem of workplace bullying. Australia There are a number of groups in Australia dealing, in part, with the problem of workplace bullying. Groups include unions, the Queensland Working Women’s Service and Job Watch Inc. , Victoria. Another group is the Beyond Bullying Association Inc. , which is the foremost community action group addressing the problem in Australia.

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This article now describes how the Beyond Bullying Association works to address the problem of workplace bullying. In 1993, a small group of people concerned about the impact of bullying in various elements of society formed the Beyond Bullying Association, Inc. , a voluntary, not-for-profit organisation. The association has four aims and objectives. The first is to increase public awareness of bullying and victimisation and the consequences to society. The second is to draw attention to the destructive use of power in modern institutions, and to promote relevant research to address the problem.

The third is to provide a mechanism of support and advice for victimised people. The fourth is to influence community and government leaders to address the problem (Beyond Bullying Association Inc. , 1997). Since 1994, the membership and activities of the Association have increased substantially. The Association has held two international conferences. The keynote speaker at the 1994 conference was Delwyn Tattum, well known in the UK for his research into bullying in schools and prisons. Professor Heinz Leymann was the keynote speaker at the 1996 conference.

Both these speakers helped the Association work towards achievement of its first aim. A further conference on Abuse by Professionals is being held in July 1999 with Professor Dieter Zapf as keynote speaker. A conference is also envisaged for 2000. Public awareness has also been increased through local, statewide, and national media interviews, and newspaper and magazine articles. A national current affairs program recently presented a story about workplace bullying as part of its program. A Beyond Bullying Association Homepage has been created at http://www. davdig. om/bba/ The Association works towards achieving its second aim through a number of activities. Arguably the most influential contribution to the debate on workplace bullying in Australia has been the report published by McCarthy et al. (1995). Research for the report was assisted with a grant from Worksafe Australia, and more than 500 copies of the report have been distributed worldwide. Other publications include McCarthy et al. (1996; 1998). In terms of achieving the third and fourth aims of the Association, a number of additional activities have been undertaken.

Recently the Division of Workplace Health and Safety (Queensland), collaborated with other organisations including the Queensland Working Women’s Service and Griffith University to produce the Guide to Bullying at Work. The guide is designed as a step towards industry self-regulation within the auspices of the workplace, including an organisational development strategy. Moreover, the aim of the guide is to be proactive instead of reactive, developing and encouraging preventative risk management strategies within a climate of mediation and no blame, rather than victimisation of those labeled as bullies.

Significantly, in 1997 the Beyond Bullying Association, in conjunction with Griffith University and the Queensland Working Women’s Service, was awarded an Australian Violence Prevention Award. This prestigious award is presented by the Australian Heads of Government comprising the Prime Minister, State Premiers, and Chief Ministers of the Territories. The award recognises the contribution made by the recipients for their groundbreaking work in promoting an awareness of bullying in the workplace as an unethical, illegal, and counter-productive form of psychological, and sometimes physical, violence.

Republic of Ireland Attempts to deal with workplace bullying in the Republic of Ireland are in their infancy. While some unions have raised awareness of the problem at conferences, research into the problem is limited. A small unit dealing with workplace bullying is established at Trinity College, Dublin. Known as the Anti-Bullying Centre, it is a research and resource unit dedicated to addressing the problem through counselling and research. An article by O’Moore et al. (1998) reports results of a study involving self-referred victims of workplace bullying in Ireland.

The nature and effects of bullying are examined as well as views of the cause of victimisation. The findings support international research that bullying is damaging to the physical and mental health, as well as to the careers, of victims. The results highlight the need for early intervention and the development of anti-bullying programmes in the workplace. Additionally, the authors argue that bullying is neither a gender specific nor an age specific issue. Rather, the problem transcends sex and age boundaries.

O’Moore and her colleagues from the Anti-Bullying Centre at Trinity College, Dublin, call for a clear policy on bullying that sets out the disciplinary actions which perpetrators of bullying face. Sweden The late Professor Heinz Leymann introduced the concept of mobbing (bullying) in Sweden at the beginning of the 1990s. Mobbing refers to the severe form of harassing people in organisations. Leymann’s work is extended into positive strategies for dealing with the problem in Sweden. Concerns were raised in Sweden that victimisation at work infringed people’s civil rights to physical and psychological health in the workplace.

There was also concern that such infringements would undermine national social and economic goals. Thus mobbing was identified as an area of research, one outcome of which was the development of Swedish policy initiatives to address the problem (Leymann, 1997). An Ordinance as part of the Swedish Work Environment Act goes so far as to prohibit victimisation at work, including “mobbing” or bullying behaviours. Significantly, in locating contributing factors within the work environment, the Ordinance accords management key responsibility for the problem and remedies.

UK Andrea Adams Trust Many researchers pay tribute to the work undertaken by the late Andrea Adams. Her work, together with a contribution from Crawford, brought the problem of workplace bullying to the fore in the UK. Adams was a prolific researcher, attending many conferences to present papers about her work. A tribute to her work, including an adaptation of her address at the Bullying in Adult Life conference held in Birmingham on 10 October 1995 is presented in an article entitled “Bullying at work” by Beasley and Rayner (1997).

The Andrea Adams Trust now continues the work begun by Adams, assisting victims of bullying and publishing research into the problem. The trust provides advice and counselling to people bullied at work. Since their establishment in 1997, they have handled more than 4,500 telephone enquiries from people bullied at work. Members of the trust act as expert witnesses in industrial tribunals, speak at conferences, and research and publish in the field (Witheridge, 1999). Of particular interest in the UK has been the role unions have played in raising the problem and in presenting strategies to address workplace bullying.

The two unions who have been most active are UNISON and the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Sector Union (MSF). A brief discussion of each of these unions and their strategies for dealing with workplace bullying is now outlined. UNISON UNISON is the largest union in the UK and was formed on 1 July 1993, from the merger of three public service unions, COHSE, NALGO and NUPE. The aim was to create a stronger and more influential union to defend and improve the interests of people working in the public services and essential industries.

It represents 1. 4 million members employed in local government; health care; higher education; electricity; gas; water; public transport; police authorities, and the voluntary sector. In each of these areas UNISON plays a leading role in negotiations on pay, employment and working conditions, at local, regional and national level. UNISON is at the forefront of campaigns to defend public services and essential industries and to protect the people who work in and rely on them against the effects of further cuts and privatisation (see http://www. nison. org. uk/). It has also been at the forefront of research into workplace bullying, conducting a survey (UNISON, 1997), and commissioning a number of studies into the problem (see Rayner (1999) for a report of one such study). MSF The Manufacturing, Science and Finance union (MSF) represents a range of skilled and professional occupations. The Union has negotiating rights in most of the major companies across all manufacturing sectors: engineering, electronics, aerospace, automotive, steel, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, food and drink.

It is the largest staff union in the manufacturing sector with more than 50 per cent of members working in manufacturing and is the largest trade union representing insurance staff in the world, with approximately 60,000 members in the industry. MSF represents its members on issues such as pay, terms and conditions of employment, health and safety, equal opportunities and organisational change (see http://www. msf. org. uk/). MSF, in conjunction with the Andrea Adams Trust, was one of the first organisations to bring to public and media attention the issue of workplace bullying.

The Campaign against Bullying at Work was launched with a conference in May 1994 resulting in many members contacting the union with details of their personal experiences, protracted stress-related illnesses that they had suffered, and the anguish that the experience of bullying had caused them and their families. This campaign was followed by a survey by MSF in 1995. Of more than 1,000 workers surveyed, 78 per cent had witnessed bullying and 51 per cent had experienced it personally. This survey showed that bullying was prevalent in the finance, health, sales professionals and voluntary sectors.

In 1996 MSF spearheaded a campaign to change UK law. Lord Monkswell introduced the Dignity at Work Bill into the House of Lords in late 1996 as a private member’s Bill. The Bill was aimed specifically at the prevention of bullying in the workplace and the provision of effective remedies for the victims of bullying. Although the Bill failed to reach the statute books owing to lack of parliamentary time and the general election in May 1997, the debates on the Bill succeeded in raising awareness of workplace bullying amongst Members of Parliament.

In addition, media publicity as a result of the introduction of the Bill also raised awareness among the general public and embedded the phrase “dignity at work” into the wider industrial relations debate. Many organisations are now considering “dignity at work” policies. Unions, individuals and professionals such as counsellors, responded with interest to the Dignity at Work Bill as an imaginative and much needed response to the “bullying problem”.

While no-one has suggested that the Bill alone would remove the problem of bullying at work, it has been seen as a potential catalyst, bringing human relations issues to the fore in the workplace, and repairing loopholes in existing law. It could provide greater clarity for individuals using employment tribunals to seek redress against bullying (Ball, 1998). A further important benefit the Dignity at Work Bill could bring is positive encouragement to employers to introduce clear and explicit “dignity at work”, or “anti-harassment” policies covering their employees.

Responsible employers have such policies, often initiated with trade unions. Their successful introduction and operation, such as in the Consumers’ Association, Littlewoods’ Home Services, Hampshire County Council and a number of other organisations, represents an excellent advertisement for progressive partnerships and fairness at the workplace. The discussion in this section of the article was not meant to be all encompassing. Rather, the intention was to highlight different approaches taken to address workplace bullying in the four nations mentioned.

The strategies utilised tend to be external to the organisation, occurring at a socio-political level as well-meaning individuals or groups attempt to confront and deal with the problem. Some success has been achieved, especially in Sweden where structural change has occurred. In particular, the approaches adopted in Australia and the UK have been collaborative processes between responsible employers, unions, politicians, University researchers and voluntary and community groups. Clearly, from the research discussed in many of the articles in this special issue, further collaboration is required.

Highlighting some of the legal and economic aspects of the problem may serve further to drive an agenda for change. Legal and economic aspects In the rush to globalisation and increased competition many organisations are restructuring and downsizing as part of a perceived need to change. Frequently, the there is failure to account for the wider implications of the change process because change is looked at from a narrow perspective and short term solutions are sought for what are often complex problems.

Undoubtedly, as some of the articles presented in this special edition of the journal demonstrate, people have suffered anxiety and conflict within the change process, suffering which suggests that the legal and economic aspects of workplace bullying ought not to be underestimated. Sheehan (1999) mentions some recent landmark decisions in Australia. Other arguments in the Australian context may be found in Gorman (1997a; 1997b) and Spry (1998). The cases outlined in these articles suggest a need for risk management in Australian workplaces to avoid the problem.

Similarly, in the UK, a study of work-based personal injury court cases revealed that “bullying at work”, although not named as such as it currently has no place in English law, accounted for about 30 per cent of the cases (Earnshaw and Cooper, 1996). Amounts awarded by the courts also evidence some of the economic costs of the problem and this article now turns to a brief discussion of some other costs. Previous studies highlight that there are a number of economic costs associated with workplace bullying because of related health problems. Problems include psychosomatic stress (Leymann, 1990), anxiety (McCarthy et al. 1995; Niedl, 1996) depression (O’Moore et al. , 1998) and burnout (Einarsen et al. , 1998). Leymann (1990) suggests that the costs of sick leave as a result of some of these symptoms may be estimated at between US$30,000-100,000 for each person subjected to mobbing. Included in the estimate are costs associated with the subsequent loss of productivity and the need for intervention by a variety of organisational members such as personnel officers and health workers. UK studies consistently show 25 per cent of bullied workers leave their jobs as a result of their treatment (Rayner, 1999).

Clearly, should these costs be extrapolated across a working population in any of the countries mentioned in articles in this special edition of the journal the final figure would suggest organisational costs that would far outweigh any of the perceived benefits of organisational restructuring and downsizing. Such a consideration also suggests the need for studies to be undertaken in this area. Future studies could also consider the wider societal costs, as the ramifications of health effects from being bullied are not confined to the workplace. Traumatised by their experience of being bullied, the victims are often unable to work again.

In these circumstances the economic suffering is not only confined to the victim but also flows to the victim’s family. Conclusion The primary purpose of this article was to raise an awareness of how the problem of workplace bullying is being addressed in some countries. In the UK the unions have played a major role and members of the Andrea Adams Trust continue the work begun by Adams. Similarly, the Anti-Bullying Centre in Ireland and the Beyond Bullying Association in Australia undertake the formidable task of dealing with the problem in their respective countries.

In Sweden, a legislative framework has been introduced to deal with the problem. The growth of research in the field in the last five to ten years, and the articles presented in this section of the journal, suggest the discussion is by no means exhausted. We would be pleased to hear from others researching and working in the field as a way of becoming more aware of the nature and extent of workplace bullying. We would also like to hear of positive strategies implemented as a means for dealing with the problem.