Millions lost in the bullying blame game, says workplace bullying expert

The Australian economy is losing millions of dollars through industries punishing rather than preventing workplace bullying, according to a leading Australian industrial psychologist.

Dr Rod Gutierrez, principle psychologist for DuPont’s Sustainable Solutions business, says most Australian companies adopt a zero tolerance approach to bullying – and plough expensive resources into prosecuting or counseling offenders.

A parliamentary inquiry into workplace bullying is currently underway but Dr Gutierrez said research has shown that the usual systems of dealing with the problem could be ineffective.    

He says much of the time and effort that currently goes into punishing workplace bullying would be better spent on preventing it and creating a psychologically safer workplace from the start.

‘If we are to truly address the problems associated with workplace bullying and its cost to the economy, we need to broaden our focus beyond punitive measures and how we deal with incidents once they have occurred,” Dr Gutierrez said.

‘Many organizations have safety rules, oversight professionals and a system to manage performance. Yet, despite all these well-established procedural and behaviour-based reinforcement measures, incidents have shown a sharp rise over the past decade.”

According to Gutierrez, viewing workplace bullying in isolation is compounding the problem, with the health and productivity of organisations, and more broadly, the Australian economy, shouldering the huge psychological and financial repercussions.

Dr Gutierrez, who completed his doctoral thesis on the issue and who is one of a handful of his profession in major corporate roles, said that a new approach is needed.

‘The issue of workplace bullying is incredibly complex and requires a holistic approach that considers the risk factors, associated effects, organisational culture and values, and individual circumstances, as well as punitive measures.

‘What is clear is that workplace bullying is one of the risk factors to the development of work related psychopathology, which if found to have been significantly contributed to by the employment of a person, may result in compensable psychological injury.

‘Far more can be achieved when we take a more holistic view of both the risk factors and their associated effects, allowing governments, organizations and individuals to more effectively deal with and stamp out this problem. The wider problem being workplace related psychopathology as well as its causes.’