Reducing bullying, discrimination and harassment of young workers in Australia

Grevis Beard
April 26, 2018

“World Day for Safety and Health at Work” is an annual international campaign which promotes safe, healthy and decent work. It is held on 28 April each year.

In 2018, the focus is on highlighting the critical importance of addressing the challenges that exist for improving the safety and health for young workers aged between 15 and 24. This will not only be about promote decent youth employment, but also linking such efforts to combat hazardous – and all other forms of – child labour.

Bullying, discrimination and harassment of young workers in Australia

A concerning issue for Australia is the lived experience of young people who enter the workplace.

As noted on the Federal Human Rights Commission website, many young people who enter the workplace during secondary school “will experience violence, harassment and bullying in the workplace. This can include verbal abuse, threats, demeaning comments, assault, initiation ceremonies or sexual harassment”.

The Commission goes on to note that young workers are at particular risk because they lack experience, are generally unfamiliar with workplace procedures, are unsure of their rights and are less likely to belong to a union.

Using the anti-bullying laws to seek redress for an order to stop the bullying at the Fair Work Commission is a remedy – potentially. The vast majority of younger workers may feel, however, that they do not have the knowledge, resources and capacity to seek such an order. Instead, and rather than waiting for serious situations to develop requiring the intervention and scrutiny of a Workcover authority, employers must all ensure that there is a fundamental “zero tolerance” culture of bullying towards its younger cohort.

Disturbingly, and this is for one sector alone, the Commission noted that it is estimated that in the fast food industry “up to 35% of young people experience some form of workplace violence or bullying and almost 20% report experiencing some form of discrimination in the workplace”.

The incidences of behaviours that amount to bullying, discrimination and/or sexual harassment can certainly overlap at times. The Commission suggests that whilst large numbers of young men and women also report experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, it appears that “the true extent of workplace bullying and harassment is difficult to measure as young people are less likely to make reports because of the difficulties of making claims and because of concerns about the impact of reporting on their job”.

At the same time, in the age of #MeToo, post Weinstein, and with the high take up by younger people in particular of a number of social media platforms, inevitably there will be more public scrutiny than previously of poor workplace cultures.

Looking at international research on this subject confirms this experience. A 2013 Nordic study, “Young workers’ occupational safety and health risks in the Nordic countries”, identified that stressful and poorly organised work environments, and poor leadership, all combine to create a negative work climate, increasing in turn the risk of bullying.

Also of concern was a UNICEF study in 2013 which identified in 2013 that young people with disabilities tend to be at even higher risk for exclusion, isolation, bullying and abuse.

What can you do to protect younger workers?

All workplaces need to identify what values and behaviours their managers are exhibiting, particularly when in charge of a vulnerable cohort such as younger workers.

Reflect on what messages are being given when “bad behaviour” goes unchecked.

Consider what the “reputational risk” alone would be if that type of behaviour were in the public domain. This is a key example of where the manager of a young cohort must exercise impressive interpersonal skills, live the values of respect and inclusion, and demonstrate emotional intelligence.

Make sure your managers are appreciative of the perspectives and assumptions about young people’s view of the workplace, provide them with a sophisticated induction process which ensures they feel welcomed and supported, and of course, have a buddy or mentor who will be supportive.

It is sometimes a truism, but still a real one, that an organisation’s best assets are its people.

All the more reason to provide welcoming, inclusive and creative strategies for ensuring that all young workers are treated with dignity and respect, as they are the organisation’s best assets for the years and decades to follow.

About Grevis Beard

Grevis BeardGrevis Beard is the co-founder and Director of Worklogic and has amassed significant knowledge of the dynamics of workplace disputes and their resolution from more than a decade’s experience at Worklogic. Grevis works with a range of clients to improve workplace communication and behaviour, manage workplace risks and handle complaints  by conducting workplace investigationsmediations and reviews.

Worklogic works with employers to resolve workplace complaints and create a positive culture at work.  Please contact Grevis for an obligation-free, confidential discussion on any challenges you face involving bullying in the workplace.

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