UC researcher looking at workplace bullying

Thursday 11 April 2013, 2:40PM
By University of Canterbury

Bullying is occurring in the New Zealand workforce and a University of Canterbury (UC) health researcher believes the prevalence of bullying will be similar to that experienced in Australia.

Workplace bullying affects organisations and all those involved, UC health sciences expert Professor Philip Schluter says.

``We are looking to undertake more research into this area but we need to acknowledge the harmful effects of bullying and to ensure that anti-bullying policies and procedures are developed, documented and enacted.

``I recently completed an Australian study which looked at the prevalence of workplace bullying in the Australian medical workforce. It found 25 percent of doctors surveyed had experienced persistent bullying in the last 12 months which undermined their professional confidence or self-esteem.

``Workplace bullying is ubiquitous and insidious in Australian workplaces and is estimated to cost the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion annually through lost productivity, absenteeism, greater staff turnover and higher rates of illness, accidents, disability and suicide.

``There were no differences in the prevalence of bullying observed between sexes, age groups, country of medical qualifications, or employment sector.

``Of the 774 participants in our study, 25 percent reported being bullied over a 12 month period. Bullied doctors were less satisfied with their jobs, had taken more sick leave in the last 12 months and were more likely to be planning to decrease the number of hours worked in medicine in the next 12 months or ceasing direct patient care in the next 5 years independent of their age or the number of hours currently worked in patient care

``The prevalence of workplace bullying throughout the whole medical workforce in New Zealand or elsewhere has not been investigated, with previous studies focusing particularly on junior doctors.

``Practitioners need to be alert for potential bullying and harassment within healthcare organisations and be prepared to act decisively to minimise its impact on staff health, satisfaction and retention, and patient quality of care,’’ Professor Schluter says.

``The healthcare sector is under stress. Nevertheless, it is every worker’s moral and legal right to  safe and healthy working conditions and an organisation where bullying occurs is not such an environment.

``Workplace bullying is repeated systematic, interpersonal abusive behaviours that negatively affect the targeted individual and the organisation in which they work. It is generally the result of actual or perceived power imbalances between perpetrator and victim, and includes behaviours that intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a worker,’’ Professor Schluter says.