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ON Series: Workplace bullying and mental health

Michael O'Hanlon from Beyond Blue introduces the topic of workplace bullying and the barriers workers are faced with when returning to work.

Michael also provides links to additional resources.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 112MB)

ON Series - Workplace bullying and mental health

Welcome to our On Series webcast for Queensland Stakeholders, proudly brought to you by the Office of Industrial Relations.

Today's webinar is about workplace bullying, and the mental health barriers for return to work.

We have Michael O'Hanlon from beyondblue here to tell us about workplace bullying and its effects.

The OIR are committed to driving initiatives across the worker's compensation scheme that improve safety, well-being, and return to work outcomes for both employers and workers.

Michael has over 20 years experience in operational and management roles in the mining and information technology business.

For the past 10 years, Michael has worked at beyondblue, an independent, not-for-profit organisation, working to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

His current role as Workplace Engagement Manager combines his professional and personal experience of depression and anxiety to advocate to corporations, industry associations, and peak bodies about the benefits of improving mental health in the workplace.

We are pleased to have Michael share his research about workplace bullying and the barriers that are faced when returning to work.

Thank you, Mary Ann, and welcome, everyone to this webinar, which will focus on mental health and bullying in the workplace.

The aim of the webinar is to provide an overview or introduction to the topic, and provide links to resources that will enable you to source additional information according to your needs.

So rather than do a deep-dive, we're going to look across the top, and you can source what you need to your requirements.

I'll reference a resource known as Heads Up, which was developed by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and beyondblue.

The members of the alliance, you can see on the slide in front of you, there.

That's representatives of business, government, and the mental health sector, who've all come together to encourage the creation of mentally healthy workplaces, with a common focus and a common language.

So what I'll cover in the webinar today is a quick definition of what is bullying in the workplace, so we're all on the same page.

We'll have a quick look at the impact, some of the risk factors for workplace bullying, and then how you manage the impact of workplace bullying on mental health, and in particular, how it may relate to return to work.

And then we'll have a look at where you might start on addressing issues around workplace bullying.

So, what is bullying in the workplace? Bullying is defined as repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker or a group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety.

So the key things are, there, it's repeated behaviour of a persistent nature.

It's not just a one-off instance, although that can lead to more bullying later on.

Unreasonable behaviour is defined as behaviour that a reasonable person, having considered the circumstances, would see as unreasonable, including behaviour that is victimising, humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.

The risk to health and safety is also important, and in this context, we'll be talking about the effect bullying has on someone's mental health.

Recent research by beyondblue showed that broader environmental factors, such as poor organisational culture and a lack of leadership, are in fact the main drivers behind workplace bullying.

It also identified two subsets of workplace bullying.

One, is work-related bullying, which is when an employee attempts to dominate another employee by targeting and deliberately impeding their work.

And examples of that are making unreasonable demands, withholding necessary information, delegation of menial tasks, and excessive monitoring of work.

The other form is person-related bullying, which refers to attempts to undermine and demoralise victims in terms of their personal qualities.

Examples of that include ignoring somebody, spreading rumours, making threats, and being aggressive.

Let's have a look at what the impacts will be.

It can affect people in a number of ways, resulting in things like distress, anxiety, panic attacks, sleep disturbance.

It can even impact them physically, in areas such as muscular tension, headaches, and digestive problems.

Clearly it can impact on work performance, which will, in turn, tend to then impact on the team, leading to a wider organisational impact.

So it's important to recognise workplace bullying as not just about necessarily the individuals involved, it can have a much wider impact on the organisation.

For the individual, it can lead to loss of self esteem, a deterioration in relationships, and, in some instances, an increased risk of suicide.

So what are some of the risk factors that are associated with workplace bullying? It's a range of things, from management styles, to the actual makeup of a workplace.

A number of factors can increase the risk. Work stresses, things like heavy workloads. Individual leadership styles, how individuals relate to others. Systems of work that may foster situations where people are under stress, and challenging, and may lead to bullying. Work relationships and workforce characteristics. If the culture of your workplace is one that may foster challenging situations, you may find bullying to be more rife in those workplaces. So let's have a look at.

Now we'll explore how you might go about managing the impact of workplace bullying on mental health and return to work.

In principle, managing the impact of workplace bullying on mental health is the same as any other mental health condition that can be caused by any other risk factor.

So, first of all, you might need to address the potential workplace source.

In other words, respond to the bullying complaint.

Step up, and support, and help someone with a mental health condition resulting from bullying to stay at work.

Work, we know, can play a vital role in a person's recovery by helping them to improve their quality of life and well-being, give structure and routine to day-to-day life, contribute to a sense of meaning and purpose, and promote opportunities for social inclusion and support.

You might note, there, the similarities to return to work and stay at work policies relating to physical injuries, where the aim is to get the individual back into the workplace as soon as possible, rather than feeling isolated at home.

Some of the barriers to remaining at, or returning to work, can include a fear that colleagues may find out about the diagnosis, and have negative reactions to the person.

That loss of connection with work, and co-workers, and trying to reestablish that.

A lack of support from employers and managers, and this can be either be perceived by the individual, or it could be an actual lack of support that could result from a lack of mental health literacy and understanding.

Uncertainty about the level or type of support that might be available.

Stigma is a really great barrier, or a big barrier, in terms of anyone with a mental health condition.

Are they disclosing that they have that condition, or returning to work in a fear of what others might think? And then concerns that the work-related contributors to the stress, anxiety, and depression, in this case, bullying, have not been addressed.

A quick reminder of some of the legislative and regulatory obligations relating to mental health conditions.

Work Health and Safety I won't go into in detail, I think, hopefully you're all aware of those, and bullying has its own codes of practise, and is often covered under Work Health and Safety, as well.

Two areas I would like to highlight to you are the Disability and Discrimination Act that cover any individual with a mental health condition and imply that a manager must provide reasonably practical adjustments for an employee who has disclosed they are experiencing a mental health condition.

This is something you need to manage in the workplace, have an agreed timeframe with agreed reviews. And, at some point, the individual will be expected to be able to return to fulfil the inherent requirements of the job. But the key point there is understanding and the obligation to make reasonably practical adjustments.

Privacy, there's a Privacy Act as well, which prevents disclosure of personal information, and in this case, it would mean that a manager or a colleague can not disclose that someone has a mental health condition without the permission of that individual.

Two exceptions to this are, if the individual is at risk of self-harm or harming colleagues around them. If they do disclose that information, it can only be disclosed for the purpose in which it was shared, so, for instance, in terms of making reasonably practical adjustments.

A couple of extra things in mind. So, where do you start? One of the things about bullying is it's a. One particular risk factor, and. One of the best ways to approach it is to take a holistic or integrated approach to create a mentally healthy workplace.

In a mentally healthy workplace, there are a number of factors that would mitigate against bullying.

First of all, you'd fosters a positive workplace culture. Stresses and other risks to mental health are met, identified, and managed. There's good support for people with mental health conditions. And the organisation has a clear zero-tolerance approach to discrimination and bullying.

The Heads Up website is a great place to have a look for additional resources. It's got a raft of simple, practical, and free resources for individuals at any level of an organisation. It includes case studies, videos, tools, fact sheets, brochures, booklets, online learning. I'd encourage you all to dive in and have a look.

And, as you can see on the right hand side of the screen, there, it's nicely segmented for employers, employees, managers, and even a whole area for small business owners, recognising the particular challenges they face.

Other resources you may like to have a look at is Work Health Safety Queensland has an excellent Working Towards a Bullying-Free Workplace article.

Safe Work Australia has three excellent documents around an example of a workplace bullying policy, Workplace Bullying Workers' Guide, and A Guide to Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullying.

The Victorian Public Sector Commission has put out a document called Turning the Tide on Bullying and Poor Workplace Cultures, and features some case studies, and our own website at Heads Up has.

Where you'll find our research report on bullying in Australia.

So thank you for your time today, and I hope you found this quick overview of the topic informative, and I encourage you to dive into those links that are on each of the pages to find out the additional information that you may need.

Thanks again.

Thank you, Michael, for your expertise, and the work that Beyond Blue do for everyone.

Heads Up continue to do a tremendous job in providing research strategies and support in creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace.

If you'd like for other information, visit the Heads Up website, or you can visit our website as well, at

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