Quarter Of Kiwis, Fifth Of NZ Police Officers Bullied At Work

It’s been a bad few days for bullying in New Zealand, with the topic very much at the forefront of discussion again.

These things have a tendency to go in cycles in New Zealand – they flare up every now and then, get discussed earnestly for a while then get conveniently forgotten about. Bullying is a recurrent theme.

First there was the admission from NZ’s next top model that she’d been bullied at school , then a highschool student was sent back to a relatively safer South Africa to escape bullies at Howick College – her story prompted more victims to come forward.

Now we have The Herald reporting that police officers are suffering too:

A former constable says more staff are affected by bullying than is revealed in a recent police survey.

According to the survey, almost one in five officers say they have seen or been subject to bullying from  May 2009-May 2010

The former officer told Radio New Zealand

“I have seen big strong police officers, mentally and physically strong, that have dealt with all kinds of death, domestic violence, and terrible road accidents, you name it. They have been in absolute tears [following bullying],” Mr Harland told Radio New Zealand. Read the full article here

Quarter of New Zealanders Bullied at Work

In April we blogged about how Kiwis were the worst in the world for workplace bullying and stress.

Over a quarter of New Zealanders have been bullied at work according to the results of a study Understanding Stress and Bullying in New Zealand Workplaces.

The report says that New Zealand has one of the world’s worst records for workplace bullying and stress, something that may come as an unpleasant surprise to people moving to New Zealand for its supposedly  ‘laid back attitudes’ and ‘great work-life balance.’

The reality, of course, is very different.

Most of us are by now are aware that New Zealand has an appalling record for bullying, especially in schools and has “a culture of brutality that has to stop“.  Auckland paediatrician and former Children’s Commissioner Ian Hassall said back in 2008 that high rates of bullying reflected a “punitive culture“ and that New Zealand schools lead the world in bullying. This report shows its workplaces aren’t far behind.

You can read from our Migrant’s Tales and see for yourself some first hand accounts of bullying endured by both children and adults and we know that hundreds of teachers are assaulted in schools every year.

If bullying and brutality are so common in schools is it any wonder that it has infected every other layer of society, including the workplace?

This new study was carried out under the auspices Professor Tim Bentley, associate head of the University’s School of Management in the College of Business at Albany, Auckland, who says the findings showed stress and bullying are at high levels when compared internationally.

“1728 respondants completed the survey, approximately three quarters of whom were women with the largest representation from the health sector, the highest levels of stress and bullying were observed in the education and health sectors with with higher levels of laissez-faire leadership, lower constructive leadership, higher levels of stress, lower well-being, lower performance, higher turnover intentions, higher absenteeism, and lower levels of organisational support and commitment. Organisational strategies were perceived as more effective by non-targets of bullying than by those who felt that they had been bullied.” (source)

In a press release on the Massey University website:

““The magnitude is higher than expected,” Professor Bentley says. “Bullying is happening and it is not being addressed. It has long been accepted that this is the way of working – if you cannot stand the heat get out of the kitchen. But once the pressure, is off they will all go for a drink together and socialise after work.”

And it is not just cooks, waiters and bar staff copping it at work. Employees in three other sectors – health, education and travel – have similar rates of bullying to hospitality workers.

The researchers had already identified those sectors of the workforce as at higher risk of bullying and, funded by the Department of Labour and the Health Research Council, they surveyed 1728 workers, including doctors, nurses, teachers and academics as well as hotel and restaurant staff.

Eighteen per cent reported they had been victims of bullying at work, while 75 per cent had suffered from stress. Professor Bentley says nine times out of 10 the manager is the bully and bad leadership is the cause. “There needs to be a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying and this requires a cultural change,” he says. “If we see someone driving unsafely, we would challenge that, but people do not stand up and address bullying behaviour. We need to be confident enough to challenge people if we see this happening and strategies need to be identified to prevent it in the workplace.”

In health and education, ineffective leadership was identified as one of the main factors leading to increased stress and bullying. The study found that employers in all four sectors had limited understanding of the workplace bullying problem and how to address it. Reporting structures were not effective with bullying included as part of wider harassment or violence initiatives.

Dr Bevan Catley and Dr Dianne Gardner from Massey University were part of the multidisciplinary team that conducted the research alongside Professor Michael O’Driscoll (University of Waikato), Dr Helena Cooper-Thomas (University of Auckland), and Dr Linda Trenberth (Birbeck, London).”

The full report may be found HERE

There is also a Facebook group for the Healthy Work Group, here’s the link if you want to join or read some more.

The public response to the report makes for interesting reading too, have a look at what people are saying in the comments section of this Stuff article: “Kiwis worst in the world for bullying

Of course bullying in NZ is rife, most NZ businesses are smaller than 10 people and the bosses are usually the owners who expect you to work the long hard hours – from a previous article, NZ is up there with Japan as far as people who work long hours goes. As employees we are paid pitifully and I know from my overseas experience that New Zealand business is a joke as far as treating employees fairly goes. Come to the conclusion, NO ONE CARES! Best to move on (if you can)
“To Hill dweller who said: “I prefer now to return home (to more money and better prospects I might add) and start over once more in a country where legislation protects its workers.”

New Zealand has legislation to protect its workers from bullying, but hardly anyone uses it. Stress is a recognized workplace hazard which is caused by bullying (amongst other things), and failure by management to address it has serous consequences, when it’s actually reported.

Part of the problem could be our “we should be able to stick up for ourselves” attitude, or fear of losing our jobs (which is bogus, because unfair dismissals are also illegal). More likely, it’s because the stress of standing up, forcing management to act, and even taking them to court if necessary, is more than the bullying itself.

I think that a few high profile cases of managers being prosecuted for failing to address bullying would be the kick in the pants that some need to take it seriously.

Another Stat
“In two previous jobs I have had problems, one in an insurance company in which I mentioned it to my manager and nothing happened until the guy left and then she admitted she had had problems with him. The other being in a NZ owned company in Silverstream, Upper Hutt. Here it was a manager and when brought to the attention of another manager the situation was ignored. When this was done, I quit for my own health and was told I was following the foot steps of a few others before me with the same problem.”
“It is a very unsophisticated culture to work in here (and to live in too, actually)

I have worked in the US and the UK but am a Kiwi.

If management in companies there behaved like they do here, the companies would be in court and being fined, as well as paying huge compensation to the staff bullied.

There’s no point in relying on the grievance procedure: our workforce is so small that no professional would ever get another job if they did so.

References are another issue: in the EU they are almost always generic and issued by the HR department (Mrs X worked here for 5 years and her performance was satisfactory is about all you’ll get) because employees can sue their former employers for giving them bad references where there is no real justification. Thus you will almost never be able to speak to a candidates actual manager.

Here I know of one person who left a well paid $100k+ job after a simple personality clash with her boss (her work was perfectly fine, they just did not get on at all) and she had to change careers because he kept giving her terrible references. She felt that she could do nothing to challenge him so she had to re-train and give up a 20 year career.

Also Work in IT
“Bullying can mean different things to different people, but let’s not confuse gruff management style with real bullying. I had a manager once whose management style included standing over a (seated) staff member in a meeting room and punching the wall over the staff member’s head while he yelled at him. That’s not a case of “harden up”, it’s about professionalism and common respect for your fellow man.

That guy notwithstanding, the worst bullies I’ve encountered have been women. I notice that the men at work call them “control freaks” rather than bullies (tone of voice implies that’s to be expected from a woman). I’ve seen two women (both Brits, incidentally) bully their way into management positions by undermining and sabotaging the work of their colleagues and/or claiming credit for work that wasn’t theirs. In both cases, this ended with them inventing a job title and demanding a pay rise to go with it. What astounds me is that they got away with it! One of them has a fabulous resume on LinkedIn, detailing her increasingly fancy job titles (each describing the exact same role). Male managers seem to be intimidated by these women and give them what they want to keep them quiet (I assume … or maybe they admire their ruthlessness?).”