Does Workplace Bullying Affect Your Staff Mental Health?

workplace bullying

Recent research that surveyed 1,528 Australian employees, highlights that workplace bullying is affecting your staff mental health. Magee et al, researchers at the University of Wollongong, found that almost half of Australian workers experienced some form of workplace bullying in their lifetime. They define workplace bullying as repeated and unreasonable behaviours directed towards a worker or group of workers, including unreasonable work demands or targeting personal characteristics. For this article, we look at this research to identify how workplace bullying affects employee mental health and what it means for your business.

How Does Workplace Bullying Affect Your Staff Mental Health?

Poor mental health has been linked to numerous physical and psychological symptoms, including headaches, chronic neck pain, type 2 diabetes, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress symptoms, suicidal ideation and others. Bullying has been most strongly associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms, depression, and anxiety. Exposure to bullying is also associated with work-related and behavioural outcomes such as intent to leave, lack of commitment, job dissatisfaction and absenteeism (increased sick days).

Employees who experience negative thoughts and whose wellbeing and health are in decline are more vulnerable. They have a lower tolerance for exposure to aggression and a lower threshold for interpreting certain behaviour as bullying. They can violate expectations, annoy others, and even violate polite and friendly interaction and trigger aggressive behaviour in others.

In a workplace environment where employees continuously interact with each other things can escalate very quickly. Victims are typically subjected to aggressive behaviour that is difficult to pinpoint due to their indirect and discrete nature. If the bullying is allowed to continue, more direct aggressive acts can occur. The victim may become isolated and avoided or humiliated in public. Both overt physical and psychological aggression may be used.

The research suggests that the long term effects of bullying are dependent upon a range of personal, situational and organisational characteristics such as individual dispositions and resilience, coping behaviours, social support, and leadership practices. Bullying can affect a person’s sense of coherence, cause self-labelling as a victim of bullying, their ability to defend themselves, agreeableness, coping mechanisms and optimism. When there are low levels of workplace bullying, personal strengths have a protective effect against mental distress. In cases of high workplace bullying exposure, targets report equally high levels of mental distress irrespective of their individual personal strength or predisposition. High-intensity bullying is detrimental for all.

See our article about whether bullying has long term effects.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Workplace bullying has been shown to have significant negative impacts in the workplace. There is evidence of increased absenteeism and presenteeism, higher rates of staff turnover and high legal costs when cases erupt. It is estimated that workplace bullying costs Australian organisations between $6-$36 billion a year. There is also evidence that it can seriously impact employee mental health.

It is estimated that 5-7% of employees have experienced a bullying event in the past six months. At any given time 20% of workers are suffering some form of mental illness. The research showed that victims had higher rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Younger males with lower social support working in stressful environments were most at risk.

Currently, workplace bullying is seen as a problem for an individual or individuals. This research argues that instead, we should be viewing the problem through a cultural, organisational or structural lens. They suggest that organisations should focus on leadership, communication, promotion of positive workplace cultures, empowerment of employees, and timely action. Actions that you can take include: moving the workplace towards a positive and psychologically healthy one, incorporating workplace bullying into the overarching risk management processes. This requires clear policies and procedures. It also places workplace bullying prevention and management firmly into well-being programmes that include training, coaching, and mediation. See our article on what we know about workplace bullying and what works.

How Can Tap into Safety Help?

The Tap into Safety Training Platform covers the key points about workplace bullying in refresher training and couples this with effective coping strategies. This helps organisations to provide targeted and tailored well-being programmes.

For businesses investing in workplace mental health, Tap into Safety Mental Health Training Platform helps to support worker mental health by providing relevant and interactive workplace wellbeing training.

Our clients have experienced a 100% increase in help-seeking activities since using the Tap into Safety Mental Health Training Platform, as part of their wellbeing program. By tackling the stigma head-on and encouraging help-seeking early, organisations can reduce the escalation of serious stress claims.

Strategically placing staff trained in mental health within identified groups with declining mental health could start to see an improvement in the mental health of your organisation.

Finally, the Tap Into Safety solution is available through a per-use ‘credits’ pricing model which provides access to mental health training for a low fee, with no lock-in contract or annual license. Organisations only pay for the training and assessment modules that they use in their mental health and wellbeing campaigns and on-boarding activities.

Want to know more? Try a free demo and contact us with any questions.

This article is also available on the Tap into Safety Podcast.

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