by Kate Molloy, Principal Consultant with Weir Consulting
Undoubtedly, one of the most concerning facts, particularly for parents, with young adults who are entering the workforce for the very first time, being that a significantly large portion ‘will experience violence, harassment and bullying in the workplace’. Young people, such as those who enter the workplace during their secondary school years, are at particular risk of experiencing workplace bullying, due to their inexperience and vulnerability.
Not only is this a concern for parents, but a huge concern for many industries who rely on young people to staff their organisations. It is also extremely disappointing that young people are not having positive first experiences in the workforce, which can lead to a number of issues including health and mental health difficulties.
What is bullying?
Workplace bullying effects approximately 75% of workers, with a large portion of this figure being younger workers. In order to ensure that this staggering statistic declines rather than increases in the future, it is important to recognise, what constitutes bullying.
A person experiences workplace bullying, in circumstances, ‘where a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them or a group of workers, and this behaviour creates a risk to health and safety’. It also goes on to suggest that some examples of behaviour that in unreasonable include verbal and physical abuse as well as behaviour that intimidates, or humiliates others, in addition to behaviour that would be considered a threat. Additionally, behaviour, that an ordinary person, would consider to be uncalled for and unreasonable in the circumstances, can also be considered bullying.
Bullying behaviour includes, constant and repetitive teasing, encouraging inappropriate behaviour, excluding and ostracising an individual or a group, behaving aggressively, and placing unreasonable demands.
Most commonly workplace bullying occurs between co-workers, as well as between supervisor and co-worker, with the former unreasonably abusing their position of power, and between individuals and groups of workers, within the workplace environment. Workplace bullying is also commonly driven by perpetrators need to have ultimate and superior power control over another individual, which can adversely affect the health and wellness of employees, as well as have serious consequences for businesses in terms of productivity and organisational culture.
Why are younger workers more susceptible?
Younger people are certainly more susceptible to workplace bullying due to a number of reasons. Firstly. they are ‘green’ when it comes to workplace policies and procedures and may not even be aware that the behaviour of their co-workers or superiors is in fact bullying. They also lack knowledge of their rights and where to seek assistance, and they are also less likely to belong to a union than other workers. Young people are also often ‘bottom of the food chain’, in entry level positions, managed predominantly by adults and people far more experienced and advanced in age then themselves, which leaves them open to abuse of power situations, and due to inexperience less likely to report the bullying behaviour for fear of losing their position.
What are the effects?
The fast-food industry is a common employer of many young workers. Sadly, it is estimated that up to 35% of young people working within this industry experience some form of workplace bullying, with almost 20% also experiencing discriminatory behaviour in the workplace due to their age. A truly shocking and concerning statistic.
Given the large portion of young workers who experience workplace bullying, it is important to consider the effects of this behaviour. Some of the effects of workplace bullying that young workers experience include;
- Lack of confidence in relation to ability
- Feeling scared, stressed, or anxious
- Depression and poor mental health
- Increased levels of tiredness
- No longer having the motivation or drive to attend work, increasing unemployment
- Physical illness and medical issues such as headaches and sleep issues
- Adverse consequences for other life activities such as poor school or educational performance
What action can be taken?
Workplace bullying is a significant safety issue for businesses, who are required by law, to provide a healthy, safe, and secure working environment for employees, including young employees. Employers who allow the mistreatment of younger staff, can face serious legal consequences.
The Workplace Bullying Institute, in particular, institute representative, Dr Gary Namie, has outlined that the best course of action for employers when attempting to stamp out workplace bullying, is for businesses to ensure that they establish an organisational culture that does not enable workplace bullying. This includes establishing policies and procedures that clearly identify the organisations expectation in relation to staff behaviours, and the consequences should these behaviour expectations be breached. Tolerating bullying is simply not an option.
Further, in addition to ensuring a safe workplace and a positive organisational culture that, educating young workers on their rights within the workplace and increasing their knowledge is also an action that workplaces can take to ensure their young workers are not as likely to experience workplace bullying and are more aware of how to seek help, should they experience it.
Workplace bullying has intensified during COVID-19 and can occur in any workplace, or industry. For industries that employ younger workers it is essential that workplaces take a proactive position to recognise the seriousness of the effects that workplace bullying can have on their younger staff, and actively seek to change their organisational culture, to ensure the continues the safety and health of all staff.
Kate Molloy is a Principal Consultant with Weir Consulting (National). Kate has a strong focus on the management of workplace conflict, including dealing with workplace bullying and/or harassment and team related workplace dysfunction.