Bullying in the Workplace

17 July 2017 Alex McDonald

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Bullying – a dirty word for some, a reality for many in aged care.

The aged care sector is rooted in the history of the traditional nursing training, which meant that newer nurses were given the dirty jobs and waited their turn until they were promoted based on how long they had been there for. Unfortunately, even though it is illegal, bullying in today’s aged care sector is still a persistent problem for many organisations.

Definitively, workplace bullying is the “verbal, physical, social or psychological abuse by your employer (or manager), another person or group of people at work” (Australian Human Rights Commission, 2017, p1). While legally, an employer is responsible for ensuring a safe work place, which is free from bullying. Given the history of the aged care sector, responding to complaints of bullying is almost a regular occurrence in the aged care sector for human resource professionals.  What is not known, however, is the impact that this has on the workplace long term.

Bullying creates social stress and psychological harm in both the short term and long term, to both the victim and those who may have witness the occurrences. This means that the impact of bullying is usually greater than just the person who reports the incidence, but many of these impacts go unnoticed and not addressed in the workplace.

This creates reputational damage for the organisation and manager in charge in both the short and long term as current employees change their opinion and psychological contract expectations of their workforce as a result of the way in which an organisation responds to a complaint of bullying. For example, if an organisation ignores a complaint, or sweeps it under the rug, then employees will perceive the organisation as uncaring and not supportive. This results in employees rethinking their future with that organisation. When that employee eventually leaves that organisation, they take with them their perceptions of the organization and talk to others about their previous experience, which comes with it a recommendation to never work for that organisation and/or that manager again.  As many employees stay within the aged care sector and work at multiple employers across their careers, this reputation and perception of that organisation stays with them, resulting in that organisation having difficulty recruiting employees in the future as a result of the reputational damage done from one incident – regardless of how long ago that incident occurred. Thus, the way an organisation responds to an allegation of bullying and how they treat the perceived victim and perpetrator, will impact the long-term attractiveness of the organisation. However, many organisations do not consider the long term reputational implications of bullying in the workplace.

The reality of this for some organisation is that even though the perpetrators may be long gone, the impact that the episode of bullying has had on the reputation of the organisation as lives on. This means that the organisation needs to rethink its marketing strategy to potential future employers to repair some of the damage made. How this is done, depends on the culture of the organisation, and as such, the strategy would need individual tailoring by professional experts in the field.

For those organisations that are currently experiencing issues of bullying at work, it is important to remember that your actions will be remembered for a long time to come so it is important that you support all parties involved appropriately, and follow up after the episode to show you care to your employees. This is important as those organisations that are perceived to care about their employees, are more likely to retain and fill vacancies quicker than those who do not.



Australian Human Rights Commission (2017).  Workplace bullying: Violence, Harassment and Bullying Fact sheet. Retrieved 30/6/17 at: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/workplace-bullying-violence-harassment-and-bullying-fact-sheet