Recent research that surveyed 1,528 Australian employees, once again highlights the impact that workplace bullying can have on employee 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 life time. 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 post, 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 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 behavioral 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 behavior as bullying. They can violate expectations, annoy others, and even violate polite and friendly interaction and trigger aggressive behavior in others.
In a workplace environment where employees continuously interact with each other things can escalate very quickly. Victims are typically subjected to aggressive behavior 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 behaviors, social support, and leadership practices. Bullying can affect a person’s sense of coherence, cause self-labeling as a victim of bullying, their ability to defend themselves, agreeableness, coping mechanisms and optimism. When there is 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 post 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 post on what we know about workplace bullying and what works.
How can Tap Into Safety help?
The Tap Into Safety Platform covers the key points about workplace bullying in refresher training and couples this with strategies and a mental health assessment to provide data on staff groups most at risk. This helps organisations to provide targeted and tailored well-being programmes.
Within the Tap Into Safety solution, employees are encouraged to seek help. Organisations can also access data to identify staff groups with mental health issues early on.
For businesses investing in workplace mental health, Tap Into Safety Mental Health Training Solution helps by intervening early to support worker mental health through providing relevant and interactive workplace wellbeing training. The solution offers a ‘one click away’ approach so employees can easily receive help.
Our clients have experienced a 100% increase in help-seeking activities since using the Tap Into Safety Mental Health Training Solution, 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.
The psychometric measurement tool included in the training solution is a world first in its use across organisations. Together with our filters, it enables organisations to pinpoint groups of staff in mental health decline so they can target and tailor their wellbeing education program to support them.
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. Once registered, employers have access to predictive results that indicate trends in employee mental health. Early indicators in declining employee mental health can help to inform organisations where best to spread resources and target training and support.
Most importantly, once a business is registered on the Tap Into Safety Platform, employees can continue to access the help seeking features and support resources, at no charge to the business. Organisations only pay for the training and assessment modules that they use in their mental health and wellbeing campaigns and on-boarding activities.