Mentally healthy workplaces - Podcasts and videos

The department's mental health and wellbeing inspectors have developed a series of  resources on workplace mental health and wellbeing.

The concepts presented may assist workplaces to discuss, consult, plan and operate in a safe and efficient manner. These podcasts are not a substitute for, nor constitute proper training. 

Resources for management

Department of Mines Industry Regulation and Safety

 

 

 

 

 

Resources for workers

 Department of Mines Industry Regulation and Safety

 

Transcripts

Transcript - Mentally healthy workplaces - Risk management process

Welcome to the Mentally healthy workplaces podcast series.  In this episode our mental health and wellbeing inspectors describe the risk management process for mentally healthy workplaces.

People can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the prospect of managing risks to mental health in the workplace.

Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent ways to keep people safe at work.

Workplaces should already be familiar with the safety and health risk management process – identification, assessment, control, and monitoring and review.

In this podcast we’ll take you through a step-by-step approach of how workplaces of any size can apply the principles of risk management to develop mentally healthy workplaces.

Our goal is to empower you to use the knowledge and skills you already have for managing physical hazards to manage psychosocial hazards and their risk factors.

So, before we begin, let’s look at a few examples of psychosocial hazards and risk factors.

Examples of workplace psychosocial hazards include stress, fatigue, bullying, violence, aggression and burnout -

…all of which can be harmful to the health of workers and compromise their wellbeing.

Some risk factors are: unhealthy workplace cultures... poor change management... inadequate time for rest and recovery between shifts... and the misuse of alcohol or other drugs.

Risk factors increase the likelihood of psychosocial hazards being present and unmanaged in the workplace as well as the risk of harm to health to workers.

For example, the risk factors, high job demands... low supervisory support... and lack of control over the way work is done, increases the likelihood of exposure to the psychosocial hazard of stress.

In order to develop and maintain a mentally healthy workplace, psychosocial hazards and risk factors need to be identified, assessed, controlled and monitored.

Let’s look at how you can do this.

Identifying psychosocial hazards and risk factors

The first step in the risk management process is identification.

A good place to start is reviewing workplace data that is already available to you.

This could include workforce surveys... hazard and incident reports... grievances... complaints... employee assistance program reports... and workers’ compensation information.

Irrespective of the size of your workplace, you should have access to this type of data, in some form or another, that you can take a closer look at.

By examining this data, you can obtain some insight into what’s happening in your workplace and identify opportunities to improve.

You should be looking for trends that are workplace-wide or specific to work groups, such as frequent absenteeism or repeated reports of workplace or work environment issues.

Another valuable source of data comes from consulting with your workforce. As the people who do the job, workers can provide useful feedback about how their work and work environment could be improved.

This not only engages the workforce, but also provides a great starting point for getting people thinking about what controls are possible.

Once you have this information, you can identify the psychosocial hazards and risk factors that might be present, and consider how you are going to eliminate or reduce workers being exposed to these.

As well as identifying challenges in the work environment, consultation with workers can also highlight the positive aspects of the work environment that should be promoted and enhanced. It is useful to know what you’re already doing well so you can build on it.

You can consult with your workforce formally through surveys or informally through conversations with workers and safety and health representatives.

The quality of the consultation will be enhanced by making sure that your process is considerate. It is important to ensure that you have:

provided enough time... expressed the significance of the issue... been honest about your intentions... assured workers the process is confidential, and... created a safe environment in which people can report their concerns without victimisation or negative consequences.

Assessing psychosocial hazards and risk factors

After the identification of psychosocial hazards and risk factors in the workplace, the next step in the risk management process is assessing the risk of harm.

When performing a risk assessment, it is important to consider these three variables.

How frequently people are exposed to the hazard... the duration of exposure, and... the severity of exposure.

Consider these factors for all the work groups or jobs in your workplace.

It is likely that different groups or jobs will have varying levels of exposure to each psychosocial hazard and risk factor.

As some work groups or jobs may have a higher degree of exposure than others, you will need to prioritise the application of controls accordingly.

You can use existing data that was gathered during the identification stage to assess potential harm to health.

This data can provide you with an indication of how hazards in your workplace are currently impacting worker health.

Psychosocial hazards can cause physical harm as well as psychological harm.

Examples of harm caused by psychosocial hazards include musculoskeletal disorders... depression... gastrointestinal disorders... anxiety... and post- traumatic stress.

Controlling psychosocial hazards and risk factors

The next step in the risk management process is risk control. Controls can be ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of control.

The hierarchy of control can be applied to physical hazards and psychosocial hazards with the same principles in mind. That is, eliminating the hazard first, if possible, and then applying risk minimisation strategies to reduce the remaining risk.

Let’s take a closer look at some examples of how to apply the hierarchy of control to psychosocial hazards.

Examples of elimination controls for psychosocial hazards include having clearly defined job roles, and allocating additional resources during peak work times.

Examples of controls that minimise rather than eliminate risk include...

rotating jobs for repetitive or highly demanding tasks... adjusting workloads, and... providing supportive management and supervision to workers.

In order to effectively manage hazards within a workplace, it is good practice to apply multiple controls from all levels of the hierarchy. This is known to be the most effective way to reduce the risk of harm to health.

For example, controls for one identified hazard may include...

a physical environment that adheres to good work design principles... a management framework that supports good mental health through appropriate policies and procedures...training and information so workers can perform their job safely, and... access to support services for early intervention.

As with the management of any hazard, seek advice from an expert when you have reached the limits of your expertise.

Monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of controls

Work environments are never static, and ongoing vigilance, monitoring and review are necessary for continuous improvement.

It is also important to monitor controls to confirm they are effective and their application has not introduced new hazards.

Monitoring process uses very similar strategies to the risk identification process.

Like the risk identification process, the most efficient way of monitoring your workplace’s progress is consulting with the workforce.

Regular consultation allows you to keep track of how you are going, and helps you to adjust course or refine your strategy, where necessary.

For bigger or more complex organisational changes, it is useful to review your progress against baseline data after 12 months.

This is because the effect of bigger or more complex changes takes time and might not be fully realised until 12 months after implementation.

Finally, make sure you document your risk management process.

Remember to effectively manage risks for a mentally healthy workplace...

apply a risk management approach to psychosocial hazards and associated risk factors as you would to any other hazard... use existing workplace data for identification and review... document your risk management process, and... recognise when you need to call in an expert.

Disclaimer

This podcast is not a substitute for training nor does it constitute training which should address the concepts presented here and ensure recipients have the necessary knowledge and understanding to operate in a safe and efficient manner.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety accepts no responsibility and disclaims all liability for any loss, damage and/or costs incurred for any reliance on the information contained in this podcast. 

Transcript - Mentally healthy workplaces - Applying the hierarchy of control to psychosocial hazards and risk factors

Welcome to the Mentally Healthy Workplaces podcast series.  In this episode our mental health and wellbeing inspectors discuss the application of the hierarchy of control to psychosocial hazards and other risk factors.

Everyone has the right to be safe at work. To make sure this happens, exposure to hazards and risk factors in the workplace need to be prevented and managed effectively. We do this by applying the hierarchy of control.

The hierarchy of control works on the principle that some control measures are more effective than others. It organises all controls into categories – elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering, administrative and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The categories are ranked based on how effective the controls are at reducing the risk of exposure.

The hierarchy requires consideration of elimination controls first.  Elimination controls are the most effective level of control. Then the remaining risk reduction and administrative and PPE controls should be applied to minimise the risk of harm to health as far as reasonably practicable. 

In most cases, a combination of controls, will be required to effectively manage the risk.

The hierarchy of control can be applied to all hazards and risk factors – physical or psychosocial.

Using the hierarchy to manage physical hazards and risks has been well established. Let’s look at how it can be used to control psychosocial hazards and risk factors in the workplace.

Risk elimination controls

When managing risks, elimination controls are the most effective measure and should always be considered before any other level of control.

As an example, let’s consider how to prevent workplace stress from the risk factors of;

  • intolerable work demands,
  • unclear job requirements and
  • low control over the way the work is performed.

These risk factors increase risk of harm to health.

Examples of elimination controls to prevent workplace stress caused by these risk factors could include:

  • designing work to ensure workload is appropriate
  • establishing achievable performance targets that consider number of workers and skill level,
  • designing work to increase the worker’s decision making authority, and
  • clearly defining job roles, reporting structures and activities.

However, sometimes eliminating the risk is not practicable. When this is the case, you need to minimise any residual risk by using risk reduction controls.

Risk reduction controls

Risk reduction controls refer to substitution, isolation and engineering controls. They involve the redesign, substitution or isolation of one or more aspects of the job to minimise harm to health.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Substitution controls involve replacing hazardous work practices with safer ones to reduce likelihood of exposure to a hazard while completing the necessary work.

An example of substitution is providing production line workers some control over the pace of their work, instead of allowing the pace of work to be automated or dictated by machinery. Allowing workers to have some control over their work provides some autonomy to better manage fatigue, while still maintaining good performance.

Let’s look at isolation controls. These controls work by segregating or isolating the hazard from any person potentially exposed to it.

An example of an isolation control is placing barriers between customers and bank tellers to minimise the risk of violence and aggression.

The next risk reduction controls are engineering controls. Engineering controls minimise the possibility of exposure to the hazard by controlling the hazard at its source. One example is adjusting shifts and staff allocation when work demands are high so there are enough skilled workers to complete tasks.

Where it’s not possible to have more people, an alternative engineering control is to allow longer time for tasks to be completed safely. This allows workers to have reasonable control over their work, take sufficient breaks and manage their fatigue.

Only after considering substitution, isolation and engineering controls to minimise risks so far as is reasonably practicable, can you consider the use of administrative and PPE controls in conjunction with higher order controls as a means to protect workers from harm to health.

Administrative and PPE controls

Any remaining risk must be minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable, by providing and ensuring the appropriate use of administrative controls and personal protective equipment.

These controls should only be considered when higher order controls are not reasonably practicable, or to increase protection from the hazard by applying them in conjunction with higher order controls.

Common examples include:

  • using job rotation for reception areas to reduce exposure time with aggressive clients
  • developing policies and procedures that set the standard of workplace behaviour and address unreasonable behaviour
  • providing workers with techniques to deal with aggressive customers
  • giving workers who are showing early signs of distress access to professional counselling services, and
  • providing appropriate hearing protection to reduce stress caused by excessive or annoying background noise.

While administrative and PPE controls are lower level controls, they can still be essential to a safe and healthy workplace.  For example, we would never consider performing scaffolding and welding tasks without PPE controls like gloves and protective eyewear.

In the same way, risk reduction controls like the provision of adequate supervisory support to workers, are critical as they are protective factors.

Providing supportive management and supervisory practices protects workers against harm to health from exposure to workplace psychosocial hazards such as stress, burnout, bullying, fatigue, violence and aggression. Support consists of practical support and emotional support. Providing both types of support to your workers should be a part of how you do business.

Combining risk controls

Workers, including managers and supervisors, are likely to be exposed to a combination of psychosocial hazards and risk factors. It makes sense then, that in most cases, a combination of controls will most effectively minimise the risk.

As well as using a combination of controls, consider how hazards may interact with each other to either increase or decrease overall risk.

For example, workplace conflict may decrease people’s overall capacity to cope with usual work demands or erode their decision making ability which increases their overall risk of harm to health.

On the other hand, boosting emotional and practical support during busy periods can help workers better cope with their work demands and reduce stress, thereby decreasing their overall risk of harm to health.

As with the implementation of any new controls, always check new hazards have not been unintentionally introduced.

Case study

Imagine that you’re a manager of a busy restaurant. To meet demand, you’ve recently started providing an online order and delivery service. This service has been popular so far, and has brought in a lot of new business.

However, at the weekly staff meeting, one of your cooks raised concerns about unpleasant exchanges between kitchen staff and the delivery drivers, which has led to increased pressure on kitchen staff when fulfilling online orders.

You become concerned that these stressful interactions could impact the health and safety of your workers and the quality of service they are providing to their customers.

How do you manage the risks to the mental health of your workers while ensuring your business runs smoothly?

Well, you have several options.

As an elimination control, you could stop offering online order and delivery services. This would eliminate the hazard and it would also remove a significant income stream for your restaurant.

As a substitution control, you could reduce the amount of menu items available for delivery. This way staff could focus more on their preparation.

As an engineering control, you could improve the online ordering system so that it automatically rearranges orders by priority, allowing kitchen staff to prepare online orders in time for pick up.

You could apply administrative controls by increasing the expected delivery time frames from 20 to 30 minutes so that staff have more time to prepare orders.

As you can see, in this case study, eliminating the hazard completely, might not be reasonably practicable. Applying one of the risk reduction controls could manage some of the risk, however applying a combination of controls would provide the best protection from harm.

Reducing the amount of menu items available, and supplementing this with an improved online ordering system and more reasonable delivery times, will reduce the risk of harm to health substantially.

To develop and maintain mentally healthy workplaces, we should apply the hierarchy of control to psychosocial hazards and risk factors with as much rigour as we apply it to physical hazards.

Remember, highest order controls are the most effective but in many cases, a combination of controls at all levels of the hierarchy will be necessary to effectively manage the risk.

Disclaimer

This podcast is not a substitute for training nor does it constitute training which should address the concepts presented here and ensure recipients have the necessary knowledge and understanding to operate in a safe and efficient manner.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety accepts no responsibility and disclaims all liability for any loss, damage and/or costs incurred for any reliance on the information contained in this podcast. 

Transcript - Mentally healthy workplaces - Investigating psychosocial hazards and harm to health

Welcome to the Mentally Healthy Workplaces podcast series. This episode is part one of two in the Investigating psychosocial hazards and harm to health podcast.

In this episode, we discuss, the process for investigating reports of psychosocial hazards and psychological harm to health.

All employers and duty holders have certain obligations under the safety and health legislation to investigate worker reports and provide feedback on the outcome to the worker.

This requirement applies to both physical and psychosocial hazards and harm to health. Workers can be exposed to a combination of work-related psychosocial hazards.

These include stress, fatigue, bullying, violence, aggression, harassment and burnout, which can be harmful to the health of workers and compromise their wellbeing.

There are also risk factors, for example, the misuse of alcohol or other drugs or poor change management, that increase the risk or potential for harm to health from exposure to a hazard.

To help you meet your duties in the workplace, this podcast helps to explain:

  • how harm to health can occur from being exposed to psychosocial hazards...
  • provide examples of psychosocial hazards and their associated risks, and...
  • explain how you can apply controls to minimise the risk of harm to health.

How does psychosocial harm occur?

When our brain encounters a threat, such as exposure to a psychosocial hazard, an alarm system in our body is switched on.

Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts the body to release a surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which increase heart rate and blood pressure.

Most of us have probably experienced this physiological response. Under normal circumstances, once the exposure to the threat is over, our hormone levels return to normal.

However, when exposure to low severity psychosocial hazards is sustained over a long period, it can increase the risk of harm to health.

This is because the physiological response to a threat results in our body being overexposure to adrenaline and cortisol disrupting almost all the body's systems and causing a wear and tear effect on the body. Therefore prolonged long exposure to a threat or hazard can result in harm to health including anxiety, depression, digestive conditions, heart disease, and sleep disorders.

For example, exposure to violence and aggression may result in psychological harm to health such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.

The most common psychosocial hazards you might find in your workplace are work-related stress, bullying, and violence and aggression.

Let's use these three hazards and their associated risk factors as examples of what to consider when conducting an investigation of reports of psychosocial hazard and harm to health.

The key steps in investigating harm to health from exposure to psychosocial hazards are:

  • Identifying contributing factors and their source...
  • Identifying existing controls and adequacy...
  • Identifying preventative measures...
  • Implementing preventative measures... and
  • Monitoring and review.

As we discuss these steps with examples, remember that psychosocial risk factors don't occur in isolation - there is an interaction between risk factors.

That is, there may be multiple risk factors contributing to one or more psychosocial hazards that may cause harm to health.

Identifying contributing factors

There are multiple ways employers can be alerted to the existence of psychosocial hazards in their workplace such as: 

  • grievances...
  • safety and health hazard or incident reports...
  • letters from workers... and
  • workers' compensation certificates.

When a report is submitted, the first step is to identify the contributing psychosocial risk factors, including their source.

Let's first look at risk factors for work-related stress. The most common contributing psychosocial risk factors to consider for work-related stress are:

  • Intolerable work demands;
  • Low levels of control;
  • Limited task variety;
  • Low task significance;
  • Poor support;
  • Lack or role clarity;
  • Poorly managed relationships;
  • Low levels of recognition and reward;
  • Poorly managed change; and
  • Actual or perceived organisational injustice

Risk factors for workplace bullying are quite similar to those for work-related stress, however there are some differences. For example, leadership style is one of the key risk factors for workplace bullying.

The two leadership styles that contribute to workplace bullying are authoritarian and laissez-faire leadership styles.

Authoritarian leadership styles typically involve a single leader making all the decisions for an organisation, group or team with little to no input from others.

Laissez-faire leaders on the other hand deliberately refrain from proving direction and making decision and allow team members the freedom to choose how they complete their work.

When applied to the appropriate work environment and workforce both styles can have benefits for worker wellbeing and performance. However when applied inappropriately or to an extreme both styles can create a stressful work environment that may result in workplace bullying.

Let’s look next at violence and aggression

Risk factors for work related violence and aggression can be related to three aspects:

  • workplace design...
  • policies and procedures,
  • and clients.

For example, for workplace design you can consider whether the source of risk is unrestricted movement of the public through the workplace, poorly lit areas, or restricted access and exit points for employees to safely retreat.

You will also need to consider contributing risk factors that may have increased the risk of harm to health. For example, poor manager or supervisor support and the requirement to resume normal duties without time for decompression following an incident increases the risk of psychological harm to health.

Identifying existing controls

Once the psychosocial hazard contributing risk factors, and the source of the risk factors are known, existing controls and their adequacy need to be identified and assessed.

It is important to start with identifying what elimination controls are in place at the workplace to eliminate exposure to the psychosocial hazard. These are the most effective controls measures and should always be considered before anything else.

For work related stress examples of elimination control which may be in place for the risk factor of poor role clarity are clearly defined job roles and reporting structures.

The next step is to identify current risk minimisation and administrative and PPE controls within the workplace.

Risk minimisation controls refer to engineering, isolation and substitution measures.

Administrative and PPE controls should only be considered when higher order control measures are not reasonably practicable or to increase protection from the hazard by applying them in conjunction with higher order controls. For examples an engineering control that may be in place to reduce the risk of exposure to work related stress from intolerable work demands is the redesign of shift rosters when work demands are high so there are sufficiently skilled workers to complete the work.

If that is not possible, an alternative engineering control could be reprioritization of non-essential tasks to allow the essential tasks to be completed safely and on time.

An example of a substitution measure could be providing workers with some control over the pace of their work to allow them to take breaks to manage their fatigue, instead of using machine pacing or computer automated pacing.

Examples of controls that may be in place to protect workers from harm to health or to intervene when exposure has occurred are administrative and PPE controls for exposure to work related violence and aggression examples of administrative and PPE controls include an escalation procedure, medical treatment and return to work programs.

The next step is to identify how effective these controls are in reducing the overall risk of harm to health.

You can determine this by assessing the residual risk that is the level of risk that remains after your initial control have been applied. This has been done by applying the risk rating matrix after the controls have been put in place. Based on the residual risk you can determine whether the remaining risk is acceptable, that is as low as reasonably practicable or whether additional controls are required. 

Some questions to consider when assessing the effectiveness of the current controls in the workplace are:

  • What are the Industry Standards for managing these risk factors that apply to your workplace?
  • How does your workplace compare to these standards?
  • What do other organisations do?
  • Have there been similar incidents and harm to health in the same work environment or with the same occupational tasks?
  • If so, what was done?
  • Was it preventable?
  • Were controls implemented?
  • What solutions have workers identified previously?
  • Were these solutions implemented?
  • Are the current controls predominantly elimination and risk minimisation controls or administrative and PPE controls?

If there have been previous similar incidents or harm to health, this may be an indicator that the current controls are not effective at reducing the risk of harm to health as far as practicable.

Identifying and implementing preventative measures

Once you have identified your controls and adequacy, consider what further controls can be implemented to reduce the risk of exposure and harm to health in the future as far as practicable.

When identifying further controls, remember that workers are likely to be exposed to more than one psychosocial hazard and risk factor at a time, and these may vary depending on the task.

Some hazards and risk factors relate to the whole job such as organisational change or workplace conflict whereas others may only be present during some tasks.

Effective control of psychosocial hazards and risk factors require systematically controlling both job related and task related hazards and risk factors.

In most cases, a combination of controls, elimination controls supplemented by risk minimisation controls and administrative and PPE controls, will provide the best solution to minimise the risk as far as reasonably practicable.

For example, controls for workplaces where there is a risk of exposure to violence and aggression could include:

  • elimination controls such as using online systems instead of in person services; 
  • risk minimisation controls such as redesign of the work environment to create barriers such as screens and counters that restrict the customer’s ability to physically access workers and
  • administrative and PPE controls such as training on de-escalation and evacuation procedure or use of face shields when spitting is a risk.

When thinking about what additional controls are needed, remember that different work groups may have varying exposure levels to risk factors and hazards.

Let’s look at the process for implementing the identified controls following the investigation.

Consider the following:

  • Who will be responsible for implementing each of the identified controls?
  • Who has the decision-making authority to ensure that controls are implemented?
  • What resources are needed and available to implement the recommended controls?
  • When will controls be implemented?
  • And when will they be reviewed?
  • When implementing controls always check that new hazards have not been inadvertently introduced.
  • You can do this by monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of the controls.

Monitoring and review

The next step in the process is to monitor and review the implemented controls.

This step helps to determine the effectiveness of controls and whether their implementation has introduced new hazards.

Some examples of how controls can be monitored and reviewed include:

  • consulting with the affected workers and seeking their feedback on the implemented controls...
  • conducting a risk assessment, which is a non-confrontational way of finding out if controls are effective...
  • and examining workplace data to review trends in injury and hazard/incident reports.

Be mindful that it may take time for the effects of larger changes to be observed.

In particular, effects of controls at an organisational level are unlikely to be seen until 12 months after implementation.

Common shortcomings of psychosocial hazards investigations

Investigating worker reports of psychosocial hazards and harm to health can have it’s challenges. From a safety regulator perspective, we have found common shortcomings of investigations which can be easily corrected. These are:

Number one - Not conducting an investigation of the incident/hazard report. Under the Western Australian safety and health legislation, reports of hazards must be investigated.

Number two - Not conducting an investigation in a timely manner. An investigation needs to be conducted in a reasonable time frame with no avoidable delays.

Number three - Not conducting an investigation because the employer’s insurer has conducted an investigation for workers' compensation liability. A hazard or incident investigation focuses on identifying contributing risk factors, hazards, current controls and what controls are needed to prevent future harm to health occurring at an organisational, environmental and individual level. And an insurer's report for liability cannot be substituted for the employers investigation as it does not provide the level of detail outlined above and a duty holder cannot delegate their duty of care for workers to a third party.

Number four - Not conducting an investigation because the employee didn't submit a written report through the workplace's designated reporting system. The Western Australian safety and health legislation is silent on what is considered an employee report. The legislation does not specify how an employee report is to be received, in what format- verbal or written or what type of report needs to be received such as a hazard/incident report, grievance report, letter, email, or medical certificate from the worker.

Number five - Not conducting an investigation because the worker has refused to participate or has had no capacity for work for a prolonged period. An investigation of the report may still be conducted based on the information available at the time.

Number six - The internal investigator has not been provided with information and training on how to do an investigation into psychosocial hazards and harm to health. This typically results in investigation reports which have not adequately identified the contributing risk factors and recommended controls that do not address sources of the risk.

Number seven – Not providing the worker who made the report with feedback on the investigation outcome. It is a requirement of the Western Australian safety and health legislation to provide the worker with feedback on the investigation outcome.

In summary as part of maintaining a mentally healthy workplace, ensure worker reports of psychosocial hazards and harm to health are investigated.

The investigation process includes identifying psychosocial hazards and contributing risk factor, reviewing the effectiveness of existing controls and implementing the controls required to reduce the risk to harm to health of workers as far as practicable.

Ensure effective workers receive feedback on the outcome of the investigation.

Transcript - Preventing and managing inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours for management

Welcome to the Mentally healthy workplaces podcast series.

In this episode, we will discuss how employers can prevent and manage inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours.

We cover two key topics:

  • applying a risk management approach; and
  • implementing a system of work for preventing and managing inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours

People can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the prospect of managing the risks of inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours. Fortunately, we don’t have to reinvent ways to keep people safe at work.

Workplaces should already be familiar with the safety and health risk management process – identification, assessment, control, and monitoring and review.

We’ll take you through a step-by-step approach for how workplaces of any size can apply the principles of risk management to prevent and manage inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours.

Our goal is to empower you to use the knowledge and skills you already have for managing physical hazards to manage psychosocial hazards, such as inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours, and their risk factors. 

Let’s begin by discussing the risk management approach.

Using a risk management approach involves:

  1. Identifying contributing risk factors as well as their source
  2. Identifying existing controls and their adequacy
  3. Identifying and implementing preventative controls and
  4. Monitoring and review.

The first step is to identify the types of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour that may be present in the workplace, the contributing risk factors and their source.

A good place to start is reviewing workplace data that is already available to you.

This could include:

  • surveys
  • hazard and incident reports
  • grievances
  • complaints
  • employee assistance program data and
  • workers’ compensation information.

Consulting with your workforce is another valuable source of data.  Workers can provide useful feedback about their job and work environment, what could be improved and what is working well.

You should look for trends that are organisation-wide or specific to workgroups such as:

  • frequent absenteeism,
  • injuries,
  • poor morale,
  • intolerable work demands,
  • poor support, or
  • repeated reports of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviours.

Identifying existing controls and assessing their adequacy is the next step.

Start with the highest level of control as far as practicable. A positive, inclusive culture is an example of an elimination control. An organisation’s culture is the set of shared beliefs, values and standards that influence the way workers think, feel and behave. It may be organisation wide, or at a local level within teams and divisions.

Some examples of actions that encourage a positive, inclusive culture to prevent and manage inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours are:

In consultation with workers, identify and reinforce acceptable values and behaviours;

  • Implement a no-tolerance policy for disrespectful behaviours;
  • Provide competency-based training to assist managers and supervisors to develop skills in managing inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour and conflict resolution;
  • Encourage early reporting and worker awareness on how to resolve any concerns early, and
  • Address reports of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviours in a timely manner.

After considering elimination controls, the next step is to identify the current risk minimisation, administration and personal protective equipment or PPE controls within the workplace. Risk minimisation controls refer to engineering, isolation and substitution measures.

Examples of risk minimisation controls include:

  • job redesign to reduce the demands of the job and increase support,
  • coaching to develop interpersonal skills and
  • establishing agreed communication protocols between aggrieved parties.

Examples of administration and PPE controls include:

  • policies and procedures that outline acceptable workplace behaviours, and reporting and resolution processes.
  • information and awareness training on topics such as appropriate workplace behaviours,
  • information and training on coping and resilience strategies, and
  • access to an employee assistance program or employee support services.

Administration and PPE controls should only be considered when higher order controls are not reasonably practicable, or to increase protection from the hazard by applying them in conjunction with elimination and risk minimisation controls.

To determine potential harm to health to workers, you can examine existing workplace data such as hazard or incident reports, workers compensation certificates, or grievances. Consider the frequency, duration, and severity of exposure to the hazard when determining the potential harm to health for workers.

For instance, some workgroups or jobs may have a higher degree of exposure than others. They will require different, or a higher degree of controls, to reduce the risk of harm to as low as reasonably practicable.

Identifying and implementing preventative controls is the next step in the risk management approach. This is done by assessing the residual risk. That is, the level of risk that remains once controls are applied.

Based on the residual risk, you can determine whether additional controls are required.

You may need to prioritise the application of controls or utilise a combination of controls.

The final step in the process is to monitor and review the effectiveness of controls.

This step may include:

  • consulting with the affected workers and seeking their feedback on the implemented controls,
  • conducting regular risk assessments, and
  • monitoring workplace data to review trends in injury data and hazard or incident reports.

It may take time before you can reliably measure the effectiveness of larger changes, such as those introduced at an organisational level.

Organisational controls will become measurable about 12 months after they are implemented.

Systems of work for inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours

Employers have obligations under the safety and health legislation to provide a system of work in which workers are not exposed to hazards in the work environment, as far as practicable.

Research shows that an effective system of work for preventing and managing inappropriate or unreasonable behaviours includes the following components:

  • A positive, inclusive workplace culture.
  • Visible leadership commitment and support.
  • Leaders and management modelling appropriate workplace behaviour.
  • Policies and procedures for raising and responding to reports, and
  • Training, information and supervision.

Let’s discuss each component in more detail.

The first component is a positive, inclusive workplace culture.

Developing a positive, inclusive workplace culture starts with establishing an expected standard of behaviour for everybody to be treated respectfully at work. Everyone contributes to the culture of their workplace through their words and actions. Standards of workplace behaviour are often referred to as codes of conduct or workplace behaviour policies. They should be developed in consultation with workers.

Any breaches of a workplace’s code of conduct or policy should be examined and addressed consistently by management in a timely manner.

It is important that the code of conduct or policy is:

  • documented,
  • followed by everyone in the workplace from leadership to entry-level workers, and
  • discussed regularly with the workforce.

Another critical factor for creating a positive, inclusive workplace culture is building trust between management and the workforce.

Managers and supervisors can do this by:

  • demonstrating a supportive communication style by providing workers with emotional and practical support,
  • consulting with workers about workplace matters that may affect them; and
  • providing the opportunity for workers to be actively involved in decision-making processes.

Developing a work environment that promotes respect, trust and consultation will contribute to a positive, inclusive workplace culture.

Visible leadership commitment and modelling appropriate workplace behaviours

An ongoing commitment from leaders that is visible across the workplace is critical to reducing the risk of workers being exposed to inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours. The key messages that promote leadership commitment need to be supported by appropriate action.

Employees are more likely to support and promote a positive, inclusive workplace culture if managers and supervisors do not tolerate inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour and respond to incidents in a timely manner.

Effective leaders model their workplace’s values and standard for workplace behaviours, as workers take cues from management.

Modelling positive workplace values and standards includes:

  • encouraging teamwork,
  • welcoming new ideas,
  • discouraging gossip and rumours,
  • taking a zero-tolerance approach to inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours,
  • encouraging respectful and constructive feedback, and
  • attending training and encouraging staff to attend.

Those in a management capacity can also play a vital role in identifying and managing inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours. They are well positioned to identify potential issues and early warning signs, as well as immediately respond to any incidents or reports.

Policies and procedures for raising and responding to reports

Having formal policies and procedures in place provides a framework for managing inappropriate and unreasonable behaviours, and demonstrates to workers that there is a system for dealing with their concerns.

When developing policies and procedures for raising and responding to reports, employers should:

  • consult with the workforce; and
  • consider providing formal and informal resolution avenues in the procedures.

These should be flexible enough to fit the diverse circumstances of each report

Employers can encourage reporting by:

  • communicating and enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for the victimisation of workers who make reports,
  • providing consistent, effective and timely responses to worker reports, and
  • providing regular trend-level information to workers about the number of reports, and how reports were resolved.

When receiving a report, it is important to communicate with the individual or group of workers affected. This may include discussing how the report will be addressed through a formal or informal process.

Consultation with safety and health representatives is important. However, be mindful that it may not always be appropriate to consult with a safety and health representative. Especially where sensitive and confidential information about other workers could be included in the initiating report or subsequent investigation.

Training, information and supervision

Workers, managers and supervisors should be aware of their roles in preventing and responding to inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours. They should have the appropriate skills to take action where necessary.

Training for workers can be provided in various ways, including online courses, podcasts and face-to-face sessions. The training should be tailored to meet the needs of workers, and the nature of the workplace and workforce, for example, levels of literacy.

Training on inappropriate or unreasonable behaviours should cover:

  • the impact these behaviours can have on others,
  • relevant occupational safety and health responsibilities,
  • what the employer is doing to prevent and manage inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours,
  • how individuals can respond to and deal with these behaviours in the workplace, and
  • how reports of inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour will be responded to, including time frames.

Managers and supervisors should be competent in responding to reports of inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour, and have skills that will help develop productive and respectful workplace relationships.

Manager and supervisor competencies that support the workplace’s strategies for preventing and managing inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours include:

  • effective communication and worker engagement in decision making,
  • providing informal and formal constructive feedback,
  • conflict resolution skills,
  • team cohesion and cooperation,
  • performance development and management, and
  • effective workload management.

Managing complaints

There are many ways employers can be alerted to concerns about workplace behaviour.

These include:

  • grievances,
  • hazard or incident reports,
  • correspondence from workers, and
  • workers’ compensation certificates.

The Western Australian safety and health legislation does not specify how a worker report is to be received or in what format.

This means that the report could be verbal, written or electronic, such as a hazard or incident report, grievance report, letter, email, or medical certificate from the worker.

Investigating these reports is a requirement for employers under the safety and health legislation, and will help achieve safer and healthier workplaces.

Employers can use three general approaches for investigating reports about inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours.

These are:

  • mediation;
  • investigation, and
  • risk assessment.

The severity of the allegation will usually help determine which framework to use, and if multiple frameworks are required.

When determining the most appropriate framework, it is important to consider which approach would fit the circumstances of the worker report.

Mediation can be appropriate for reports where:

  • alleged behaviours have been occurring for only a short period;
  • the impact on the person appears to be disproportionate to the alleged event, for instance, a misunderstanding; and
  • situations that involve relationship conflict and restoring or maintaining the working relationship is important

Mediation may not be appropriate in circumstances where:

  • there is a substantial power imbalance, such as a situation involving a senior manager and junior worker;
  • there is no possibility of an ongoing working relationship, or
  • the person accused of the alleged behaviours is unlikely to recognise and address the concerns raised.

The second approach that can be used for reports is investigation.

An investigation may be the appropriate approach for reports that involve:

  • intentional behaviours,
  • decisions that systematically disadvantage the targeted person,
  • alleged misconduct type behaviours,
  • a history of complaints involving either or both parties,
  • evidence of a pattern of behaviours,
  • substantial power imbalance between the parties,
  • no possibility of restoring a respectful or productive working, relationship, and
  • where the targeted person may be vulnerable, for example, a worker who is unwell and not able to participate in mediation.

Those undertaking an investigation should be knowledgeable about the risk factors for inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour, sources of risk and appropriate control measures.

As investigations can be complex, input from subject matter experts may be required.

These could be organisational psychologists, organisational development consultants, or human resources consultants.

Risk assessment is the third approach and can be used to investigate behaviours at an organisational or team level.

Rather than solely focusing on allegations of inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour, the risk assessment focuses on identifying and addressing causal factors or systemic issues that may exist in the work environment.

After a report of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour has been investigated, ensure the worker receives feedback on the general outcome of the investigation. This is a requirement of the Western Australian safety and health legislation.

Summary

Employers can prevent and manage inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours by applying a risk management approach and implementing a system of work.

Under the Western Australian safety and health legislation, employers have an obligation to investigate worker reports of inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour, and provide general feedback on the outcome to the worker.

For additional resources and information concerning topics covered in this recording, please visit the Department’s website.

This podcast is not a substitute for training, nor does it constitute training, which should address the concepts presented here and ensure recipients have the necessary knowledge and understanding to operate safely and efficiently.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety accepts no responsibility and disclaims all liability for any loss, damage, and/or costs incurred as a result of any reliance upon the information contained within this podcast”

Transcript - Mentally healthy workplaces - What are inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours?

Welcome to the Mentally healthy workplaces series.

In this episode we will discuss inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour, including defining what these behaviours are.

Everybody has the right to be treated respectfully at work.

To make sure this happens, inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour needs to be understood and managed.

In this discussion we will describe:

  • why managing inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour at work is important;
  • the types of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour; and
  • what can lead to these types of behaviours occurring at work.

Inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour is the overarching term for different types of behaviour that can create a risk to safety and health, especially the mental health and well-being of workers.

Inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours include:

  • misconduct
  • unresolved conflict
  • discrimination
  • harassment
  • violence and aggression, and
  • bullying.

These behaviours can occur through various ways including:

  • social media,
  • texting,
  • email,
  • telephone and
  • in person.

It is important to manage and recognise these behaviours, to prevent any further occurrences.

Why is managing inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour at work important?

When left unmanaged, instances of inappropriate and unreasonable behaviour can result in harm to health.

Let’s briefly look at how this happens.

When our brain comes across a threat, such as exposure to inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour, an alarm system in our body is switched on. This alarm system is commonly referred to as the fight-flight-freeze response. This alarm system prompts the body to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol which increase heart rate and blood pressure.

The fight-flight-freeze response is an automatic process which helps us cope with the threat in the most basic way our brain knows how.

Responses include:

  • fight: confronting the threat or danger,
  • flight: avoiding or leaving a situation, or
  • freeze: staying still while you prepare to protect yourself or until the threat is gone.

Most of us have probably experienced one of these responses.

Under normal circumstances, once the exposure to the threat is over, our hormone levels return to normal and we go back to our usual functioning.

However when exposure to a threat continues, such as exposure to inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour, it can increase the risk of harm to health.

The sustained physiological response results in our body being overexposed to adrenaline and cortisol, producing a wear and tear effect on almost all of the body’s systems.

Prolonged exposure to inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour is associated with an increased risk of:

  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • digestive conditions,
  • heart disease, and
  • sleep disorders.

Misconduct at work

The term misconduct refers to any improper or unacceptable behaviour. This may include failure to meet the requirements of relevant regulations, codes, policies, procedures, or all lawfully given directions. Whether verbally or in written form. Misconduct has the potential to cause a risk to safety and health.

For larger organisations and the public sector, examples of expected behaviours are typically covered within policies or a workplace code of conduct.

A code of conduct summarises what behaviour is expected and what behaviour is unacceptable. A breach of a code of conduct may be considered ‘misconduct’.

Examples of expected behaviours that are commonly included in a code of conduct include the requirement to treat members of the public, customers and colleagues with respect, courtesy, honesty and fairness, having proper regard for their interests, rights, health, safety and welfare.

Claims and findings of misconduct should be addressed through the relevant process.

These can include, grievance, performance, and disciplinary procedures.

Conflict in the workplace

Workplace conflict is a major driver of work-related stress for many workers. There are two main forms of workplace conflict, task conflict and relationship conflict.

Task conflict occurs when people disagree or have differences of opinion about tasks.

This could be about resource allocation, ideas, decisions or actions relating directly to the job.

On the other hand, relationship conflict, occurs when two people have differences of opinion about personal beliefs.

These could include values, societal issues and politics.

Relationship conflict can also occur as a result of conflicting interpersonal styles.

People can have differences and disagreements in the workplace without it being a problem.

Generally, infrequent, respectful conflict has been found to result in positive outcomes including:

  • boosting team performance,
  • encouraging information gathering and sharing,
  • providing a platform for problem solving and better solutions
  • and strengthening relationships at work.

However, if conflict worsens or is unresolved, behaviours can become inappropriate or unreasonable.

This can create a risk to safety and health.

Unresolved relationship conflict is one of the strongest contributors to workplace bullying and work-related stress.

Therefore, unresolved conflict should be addressed in the workplace as soon as practicable.

Discrimination

Discrimination is another type of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour. It can be directly and indirectly present in the workplace. Discriminatory actions have the potential to create a safety and health risk on their own, or in combination with other inappropriate or unreasonable behaviours such as bullying.

Direct discrimination occurs when a person, or a group of people, are treated less favourably than another person or group because of their background or certain personal attributes protected by the Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

Indirect discrimination occurs when an apparently neutral rule has a negative effect on people with a protected attribute covered by the Equal Opportunity Act.

An example of this could be a workplace that, without considering alternatives, requires all employees to attend mandatory professional development in the evening, outside of working hours.

This is an example of a rule that may be unreasonable for people with family responsibilities, compared to people without that attribute.

It does not matter if the behaviour is intentional or unintentional.

Discrimination can create a risk to safety and health. It is important to encourage workers to report discrimination.

This should be done through your workplace’s policy and procedures.

Harassment

Harassment may be a repeated pattern of behaviour, or it may be just a single act.

Harassment is defined by the impact of the behaviour on the person, not the intent.

Generally, harassment is not welcome, offends, humiliates or intimidates, and can create a hostile work environment.

Employers should be aware that in addition to the workplace health and safety legislation, other state and federal legislation may be applicable to inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviours that occur in the workplace.

Harassment may be executed by a person in a position of power over the victim, for example their supervisor at work. It may also occur where there is no power relationship, such as work colleagues.

Anyone can be harassed, including women or men, and people of any age or race.

Harassment can involve physical conduct, verbal conduct and visual conduct, which can be written or drawn, in the form of posters, email or SMS messages, including:

  • material that is displayed in the workplace (for example on a noticeboard),
  • material that is put on a computer, sent by email, SMS or put on a website, blog or social networking platforms,
  • verbal abuse or derogatory comments,
  • intrusive personal questions,
  • offensive jokes or gestures,
  • ignoring, isolating or segregating a person or group – for example excluding someone from information that is essential to performing their job,
  • and, initiation ceremonies that involve unwelcome behaviour, such as hazing.

Workers should be encouraged to report harassment through their workplace’s policies and procedures.

Racial and sexual harassment

Racial and sexual harassment includes any form of racially or sexually related behaviour that is unwelcome and that offends, humiliates or intimidates a person in circumstances where a reasonable person would have anticipated that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.

Exposure to racial and sexual harassment creates a risk to safety and health.

As part of the risk management process, employers should consider factors in the workplace, which contribute to the likelihood of racial and sexual harassment at work.

These include:

  • lack of leadership and management capabilities to address inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour,
  • authoritarian or autocratic leadership styles,
  • homogeneous workforce characteristics,
  • poor workplace behaviour,
  • lack of policies and training,
  • a patronage system which involves a person allocating important jobs or positions, training opportunities or career progression, in return for the worker’s support.

In addition:

  • little or no access to flexible work,
  • career penalties associated with using flexible work arrangements,
  • hazing or abusive initiation ceremonies targeted at new workers,
  • lack of opportunities for employee voice,
  • attitudes which are supportive of violence,
  • conservative norms of gender or sexuality. Including the sexualisation and subordination of women in traditionally feminine roles,
  • a perceived or actual lack of accountability or consequences for sexual harassment,
  • and, excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol, as these factors are a potential risk factor for sexual assault.

Violence and aggression

Violence and aggression at work is a type of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour.

It is defined as any act of aggression, physical assault, threatening or coercive behaviour.

It also causes physical and psychological harm and therefore creates a risk to safety and health.

Workplace violence and aggression can come from sources external to the workplace.

For example, workers in a call centre may experience violence and aggression when receiving abusive calls from customers or in the instance of an armed robbery, clients or customers may be the source of violence and aggression.

Violence and aggression may also come from internal sources such as workers from the same employer or workers from separate contracting companies that are employed by the same principal employer.

Physical assault or the threat of physical harm of any form is a criminal act.

If a criminal act has been committed, encourage workers to report it through their workplace’s procedure.

You should also provide the appropriate support for workers to make a direct complaint to the police and add this action to the incident report.

Risk factors for violence and aggression at work depend on the type of work environment and whether the source is internal or external

The common risk factors for workplace violence and aggression are:

  • regularly dealing with people with unpredictable behaviours, for instance drug and alcohol affected individuals, and children with behavioural issues.
  • working in community based environments alone, particularly after business hours, as personal security is not easily controlled by the employer. For example, social workers who attend client homes in the evening.
  • and, work environments in which drugs, alcohol, and money are on the premises, such as retail and hospitality.

Workplace bullying

The most common complaint of inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour is workplace bullying.

Bullying at work is defined as repeated, inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour, directed towards a worker, or a group of workers. It creates a risk to safety and health.

Bullying is defined by the effect of the behaviour, not the intent, as there may not be an intent to bully. A lack of intent is not a reason for the bullying to be excused.

There are two types of workplace bullying behaviours.

The first type are overt behaviours, which are obvious and noticeable.

For example; abusive and insulting language, inappropriate comments, teasing and practical jokes, and threats.

The second type of workplace bullying is covert behaviours. These behaviour are less obvious and visible. They may include:

  • ignoring or isolating someone,
  • overloading a person with work,
  • setting unrealistic timeframes, and
  • unreasonably denying a person access to information or workplace entitlements such as leave or training.

Why does workplace bullying occur?

Addressing the organisational or workplace risk factors is extremely important to minimising the risks of bullying behaviours in the workplace. The organisation must take responsibility for preventing and managing the organisational risk factors and look beyond the personal characteristics of the individual’s involved.

Let’s discuss a few common examples.

The culture of an organisation can be either a significant risk factor or protective factor for workplace bullying. Workplace cultures that permit inappropriate or unreasonable behaviours and reward the behaviours through lack of consequences or tolerance from managers and supervisors further perpetuate bullying.

This can result in new workers adopting the shared destructive norms and values, which will continue the cycle of the workplace bullying culture.

Another key risk factor for workplace bullying is leadership style. The two leadership styles that contribute to workplace bullying are authoritarian or autocratic and laissez-faire styles.

Authoritarian or autocratic leadership styles normally involve a single leader making all the decisions, with little to no input from others.

Laissez-faire leaders, on the other hand, deliberately refrain from providing direction and making decisions. They allow team members the freedom to choose how they complete their work.

Both leadership styles can have benefits for worker well-being and performance. This will only happen if they are applied to the appropriate work environment and workforce. However, when applied inappropriately or to an extreme, both styles can create a stressful work environment that may result in workplace bullying.

Work organisation and job design are two organisational factors that are linked to workplace bullying. This is because behaviours like bullying thrive in stressful workplaces where workers have conflicting job demands, conflicting personal values with the organisational values or, where job expectations are perceived as unclear or unpredictable.

Change such as restructures, budget cuts, and major technological changes can result in a stressful work environment. When change is managed poorly these work environments can foster workplace bullying.

Other factors that have been linked to workplace bullying include:

  • organisational politics, where people are trying to improve their status or protect it, and
  • internal competitive systems such as performance-based rewards systems.

Physical characteristics of the work environment also need to be considered by the employer as they can contribute to workplace bullying. These could include adverse conditions or physical characteristics of the work environment which impact employee comfort as it contributes to a stressful work environment.  A stressful work environment is a risk factor for inappropriate or unreasonable behaviour occurring in the workplace.

These organisational factors should be controlled as far as reasonably practicable to reduce the risk of harm to health. This is key to minimising the risk of bullying in the workplace.

Summary

Remember there are different types of inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour. Any of these behaviours may result in harm to health and impact on safety in the workplace. 

Risk management of these behaviours is critical to developing and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace and encouraging respectful behaviours.

For additional resources and information in relation to topics covered in this recording please visit the Department’s website.

Disclaimer

This podcast is not a substitute for training, nor does it constitute training, which should address the concepts presented here and ensure recipients have the necessary knowledge and understanding to operate in a safe and efficient manner.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety accepts no responsibility and disclaims all liability for any loss, damage, and/or costs incurred as a result of any reliance upon the information contained within this podcast.

Transcript - Mentally healthy workplaces - Workplace bullying for employees

Welcome to the Mentally Healthy Workplaces series.

In this episode, we will discuss

  • what workplace bullying is; and
  • how to manage it as a worker.

Bullying at work is repeated, unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour directed towards a worker, or a group of workers that creates a risk to health and safety.

It is defined by the effect of the behaviour, and not by the intent, as there may not be an intent to bully.

However, a lack of intent is not a reason for bullying to be excused.

There are two types of workplace bullying behaviours, overt and covert.

Overt behaviours are obvious and noticeable.

Examples include:

  • abusive and insulting language
  • behaviour or language that frightens, humiliates, belittles or degrades people, including criticism that is delivered with yelling and screaming
  • inappropriate comments about a person’s appearance, lifestyle or their family
  • teasing or practical jokes regularly aimed at a specific person
  • interfering with someone’s personal items or work equipment and
  • physical assaults or threats.

The second type of workplace bullying is covert.

This is bullying behaviour that is less obvious and visible.

Examples include:

  • overloading a person with work
  • setting timelines that are difficult to achieve or constantly changing
  • setting tasks that are beyond the person’s skill level
  • ignoring or isolating someone
  • denying reasonable access to information, consultation or resources that affects the person’s ability to perform their work and
  • treating someone unfairly in relation to accessing workplace entitlements such as leave or training.

What isn’t bullying?

While many workers experience bullying within Australian workplaces, it is important to not label behaviours as bullying prematurely.

The behaviour may be something other than bullying, such as conflict or reasonable performance management.

We’ll start with workplace conflict. This behaviour is not considered bullying when:

  • the incident is a one-off event, and
  • the inappropriate or unreasonable behaviours  are conducted by more than one person.

It is important to also distinguish between what is reasonable management action and what is workplace bullying.

Your employer has the right to manage performance, assign work and provide instruction on how they want the work achieved.

For instance, a manager who lacks planning skills, is a poor communicator, and is indecisive and inconsistent might be a contributor to work-related stress but not workplace bullying.

If a worker has performance development issues, management should identify these areas with the worker in a constructive and objective way.

This includes providing examples of work, without personal insults or derogatory remarks.

Generally speaking, performance management actions are not considered workplace bullying unless the actions are harsh and unreasonable.

In situations where a worker is dissatisfied with management practices, the problems should be raised through the workplace’s processes in a manner that remains professional.

Remember, there are several different types of workplace behaviour that can create a risk to health and safety.

Bullying is just one of these behaviours.

So, ‘bullying’ as a label should not be used as a starting point.

It should only be used if substantiated.

What you can do

The following six steps may help you address concerns about workplace bullying within your workplace.

  • Read your workplace’s policies and procedures
  • Seek advice
  • Approach the person
  • Monitor the behaviour
  • Consider reporting the behaviour
  • Seek support.

Let’s have a look at each step in more detail.

The first step is to locate and read your workplace’s policies and procedures.

This may include conflict resolution procedures, bullying, discrimination and harassment policies and procedures and the code of conduct.

Your supervisor, manager or human resources representative will be able to tell you whether there are relevant policies or procedures at your workplace.

Alternatively, information on such policies or procedures may be covered at inductions or awareness sessions, displayed on notice boards, or discussed at staff meetings or in in-house newsletters.

The documents should outline how the workplace will prevent and respond to these workplace behaviours.

After reading your workplace policies and procedures, the next step is to seek advice.

So you can take the most appropriate action, it is important to find out whether the behaviour you are experiencing or witnessing is inappropriate or unreasonable.

It can be difficult in times of stress to be objective about what is happening to you.

It may be helpful to seek the perspective of another person who is not involved, such as a human resources officer, grievance officer, safety and health representative, or a union delegate.

If you feel safe and comfortable to do so, the next step is to approach the person.

Calmly tell the other person about the behaviour you would like them to stop.

It can be helpful to provide a recent example and tell the person how you felt as a result of their behaviour.

For example, you could say “I felt humiliated when you discussed my performance in front of other team members”.

The other person may not realise the effect their actions are having on you, and your feedback may give them the opportunity to change their behaviour. You may wish to discuss possible solutions.

For example, you could say “The next time you would like to discuss my performance, please speak to me privately”.

If you choose to deal with the situation personally, you should consider:

  • acting as early as possible
  • raising your concerns in a non-confrontational manner
  • not retaliating to the behaviour
  • focusing on the unwanted behaviour rather than the person, and
  • being open to feedback.

You can ask your safety and health representative, union delegate or supervisor for assistance with this process.

They may even be able to go with you as a support person when you approach the person.

If you decide to take someone else with you, make sure you let the other person know beforehand that a support person will be present.

A support person can:

  • give you emotional and practical support,
  • help you understand the issue, and
  • take notes and remind you later of things that were said.

The next step is to monitor the behaviour.

When monitoring the behaviour, keeping a record is important.

Note down what happened, including the date, time, persons involved, witnesses, what occurred and the number of times the behaviour has occurred.

It can be hard for someone else to understand the situation unless you can explain what happened and what affect it had on you.

By writing down what you’ve experienced you will also be able to reflect on why the behaviour bothers you.

For example:

  • Was it the tone of voice or body language?
  • Was it the choice of words used?
  • Was it when and where the incidents occurred, such as in front of others?

This is important because focuses on the behaviour, not the individual and you may need to communicate the effect of the behaviour if you choose to make a report.

Once you have a record of the behaviour, consider reporting the behaviour.

You can make an employee report by informing your supervisor or manager, or utilising your workplace’s reporting procedure.

The final step is to seek support.

It is important to be aware of the support services that are available to you.

Support in your workplace may include a support person being present at meetings or interviews; accessing the Employee Assistance Program, if provided by your workplace; and speaking to a grievance or peer support officer.

If your workplace situation is affecting your health, you can access external support including medical or health professionals, such as your general practitioner or psychologist.

A psychologist or a counselling service may help you to develop ways of coping with the situation and any effects of the inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour.

You can call one of the freely available mental health support lines.

After following the six steps to address your concerns, you may wish to consider lodging a report to your work health and safety regulator such as the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety.

It is the Department’s role to ensure that employers and workers meet their obligations under the safety and health legislation.

The Department undertakes enquiries to determine whether or not the workplace has:

  • appropriate systems in place; and has
  • responded appropriately to your concerns.

The role of the inspector is limited to applying the safety and health legislation.

The inspector is not able to:

  • provide legal advice
  • mediate between the people involved
  • act as an appeal mechanism or external investigator if you are unhappy with the outcome of your employer’s actions
  • address industrial relations issues, such as pay or work entitlements or
  • direct your employer to take disciplinary actions on the accused or reinstate you to your position.

Remember, if you believe you have experienced workplace bullying, we recommend you first follow these six steps.

  • Read your workplace’s policies and procedures.
  • Seek advice.
  • Approach the person.
  • Monitor the behaviour.
  • Consider reporting the behaviour.
  • Seek support.

You can also contact the safety and health regulator and external support services.

For additional resources and information in relation to topics covered in this recording, please visit the Department’s website.

We have an online one-stop shop for Mentally Healthy Workplaces.

This podcast is not a substitute for training, nor does it constitute training, which should address the concepts presented here and ensure recipients have the necessary knowledge and understanding to operate in a safe and efficient manner.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety accepts no responsibility and disclaims all liability for any loss, damage, and/or costs incurred as a result of any reliance upon the information contained within this podcast.

“This podcast is not a substitute for training, nor does it constitute training, which should address the concepts presented here and ensure recipients have the necessary knowledge and understanding to operate in a safe and efficient manner.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety accepts no responsibility and disclaims all liability for any loss, damage, and/or costs incurred as a result of any reliance upon the information contained within this podcast”

Videos

The following videos on mentally healthy workplaces have been developed  by the department.

WorkSafe
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Last updated 15 Jun 2021

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