In response to the article “New anti-bullying laws to open ‘litany’ of complaints” published in BRW 15 November 2013.
Joydeep Hor is correct that a vague definition of “bullying” creates confusion and risks a flood of trivial claims to Fair Work Australia. The downstream implications of this is a vastly changed industrial relations landscape, in which psychological injuries replace back injuries as the cause of worker’s grievances. Indeed, in a de-unionised workforce, compensable psychological injuries are often the only weapon left to workers.
There is an opportunity for organisations to engage the issue at its origin.
Workplaces are defined by a network of relationships that exist in power differentials. This network of relationships functions as a system, in which the whole is greater than the sum of its components. The key feature of this theory is that disturbances at one point in the system have implications for all parts of the system. Bullying of, or between, workers is one such manifestation of a system in crisis.
The best analogy here is a family. A child with a behavioural disturbance in a family is often the problem that brings the family to seek help. The parental marriage may be the underlying issue, and so with couple’s intervention for the parents, the whole family system realigns and the child’s problem reduces or resolves.
Bullying can be seen as an isolated phenomenon. The mental health of workplaces is a systemic process. Conflicts, tensions or inadequately managed change all function to distress and disrupt the most harmonious of workplace systems. Attending to the mental health of a workplace in total – from interventions at the level of executive wellness through to responsive and effective employee assistance programs – will reduce the dysfunction in the workplace system. It is this dysfunction that allows the problem of bullying, complex as its origins might be, to flourish. Steeling oneself for battle and waiting for Fair Work Australia to mediate a preventable battle seems the wrong approach to take.
- Ass. Prof. Michael Robertson
- MBBS (Hons) UNSW 1991
- FRANZCP 1997
- PhD (Usyd) 2009
- WPI, COMCARE, AMS, TAC
- Chief Medical Officer Recovre Mental Health
- Consultant Psychiatrist The Blackwattle Clinic, Sydney
- Clinical Associate Professor Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, University of Sydney
- Course Coordinator University of Sydney Bioethics Program, University of Sydney.
- Deputy Editor Australasian Psychiatry
- Associate Editor Journal of Bioethical Inquiry
- Director of Psychiatry 2006-2009 Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
- Director of Psychiatry To 2013 Sydney Local Hospital Network
- Director 2012 -13 Broughton Unit, Concord Centre for Mental Health