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Understanding the causes and costs of workplace bullying


Putting a cost on Australian workplace bullying.

The true cost of workplace bullying is staggering: between $6 and $36 billion annually, according to the Australian Productivity Commission.

Professor Maryam Omari, Executive Dean of the School of Business and Law understands the complex and challenging phenomenon better than most.

Professor Omari wrote her PhD on the topic, and in 2016 authored and co-edited Workplace abuse, incivility and bullying: Methodological and cultural perspectives with leading publisher Routledge.

ECU research, led by Professor Omari, was the first in Australia to demonstrate that the costs and consequences of workplace bullying are multi-layered – occurring at individual, work, and organisational levels.

The research has shown that workplace bullying manifests in different ways.

At the individual level, employees face negative health outcomes which can also affect their personal relationships.

At the work level, a poor work climate leads to declining productivity, and increased absenteeism.

When bullying becomes endemic at the organisational level, it leads to poor morale, unethical conduct, workers compensation and legal issues, and difficulties recruiting talented employees.

Crucially, these costs and consequences are interrelated, and can spill over to affect bystanders, witnesses, and family members and partners.

Informing government policy

The findings have helped to refine legislation and industrial relations policies to reduce productivity loss and create safer workplaces.

Professor Omari was invited to give evidence to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Employment in 2012.

The inquiry’s final report included more references to Professor Omari’s work than any other contributing academic, and her key findings were reflected in the report’s final recommendations.

As a result of the inquiry, the Fair Work Act Amendment Bill was enacted in 2014.

It contains legal protections for workers who are being bullied at work, and empowers them to pursue action.

It marked the first time in Australian history that anti-bullying provisions have been included in federal law.

Examining the legal profession

In 2011, Professor Omari partnered with the Western Australian Law Society to conduct research into workplace bullying occurring within the legal profession.

The report’s recommendations led to the development of a holistic range of support services including a member assistance programme, employee relations advice line, a referral service for complaints, and career advice and mentoring.

This research has been sought after by government and industry to inform best practice.

The Australian Government’s Solicitor’s Office invited Professor Omari to brief its senior leadership team on the current landscape of workplace bullying, with workshops and presentations also provided to the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Government Department of Social Services, and multiple departments of the Western Australian Government.

Professor Omari has presented dozens of seminars for industry groups, and engaged extensively with the media to share her findings.

The research has been shared at conferences around the world, and in top publications including the Journal of Organizational Change Management, and Employee Relations.

For further information contact ECU Research.

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