Higher frequency bullying remains significant in workforce

Thursday 18 May 2023

Over 90 per cent of the workforce in Aotearoa New Zealand has reported experiencing intermittent bullying in the past year, according to research led by Professor Jarrod Haar, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Mahuta.

Using a large representative sample of New Zealand employees across a range of ages, genders and geographical locations, Professor Haar aimed to breakdown the forms and severity of workplace bullying in the last 12 months.

The results showed bullying in the workplace is highly prevalent, with only 8.6 per cent of employees reporting they have never been bullied, while 24.2 per cent say that on average, they experience bullying monthly.

The highest frequency of bullying, where employees face it weekly or more, sits just under 10 per cent. Professor Haar says the findings are concerning.

“To see only less than 10 per cent of the workforce has no experience with bullying is alarming and reflects poorly on our working environment. The figure for high frequency bullying being under 10 per cent is promising, but still shows significant change is necessary to see these harmful behaviours massively reduced.”

The most common form of bullying was found to be the withholding of information that subsequently affects job performance, followed by being ignored or excluded, having gossip or rumours being spread and having insulting or offensive remarks made.

For employees experiencing this behaviour, the data showed it can be hugely detrimental both professionally and personally.

Bullied employees were found to be almost five times more likely to be placed in the high burn-out risk group, while employees experiencing bullying as frequently as monthly are nearly 10 times more likely to face the most severe form of job burnout. Experiencing bullying monthly or more has employees 11.2 times more likely to face mental health issues relating to job anxiety and 12.6 times more likely to experience job depression.

The results showed that while neither firm size nor being in a private, public or not-for-profit sector made a difference to the occurrence of bullying, male employees were more likely to be in the high bullying frequency group at 16 per cent, compared to women at eight per cent.

Age did show a difference, with older workers in the 51-years and over category being the least likely to experience workplace harassment, with the age category of 36-40 years being the highest, followed by the 41-45 age group and the 18-20 age group.

A difference in the degree and severity of workplace bullying was seen in relation to occupation, with the following groups sitting above 25 per cent in the highest frequency category: skilled animal and horticultural workers, farm, forestry and garden workers, food trade workers, farmers and farm managers, arts and media professionals, design, engineering, science and transport professionals and sports and personal service workers.

Professor Haar says the research shows those experiencing bullying more frequently are punished terribly.

“Mental health issues and job burnout odds are critically high and the types of bullying most experienced at work is hugely detrimental. Employees are either constrained in their work performance or are subject to gossip or exclusion, making day-to-day work experiences miserable. It’s important for us all to reflect on how we behave and allow others to behave in our workspaces and establish consistent practices that allow for significant positive change. Not just on Pink Shirt Day but every day.”

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