Apprentices and The Price of Workplace Bullying

Being a blue-collar apprentice in Australia can be rewarding, fulfilling and lead to a profitable career. But for a few, it’s an introduction to workplace bullying, unsafe pranks, harassment and childish initiation rituals. And when that line is crossed, businesses find themselves face to face with the high price of workplace bullying.

Bullying within the trades now receives a higher profile than in previous decades and today’s workers tend to have a better understanding of their rights. But that doesn’t mean the old-school mindset of ‘toughening up’ a new worker has disappeared completely.

Some pranks can be good-humoured and non-threatening. Sending the newbie to the supply desk for ‘a set of fallopian tubes’ or ‘a left-handed hammer’ may be immature. However, it can’t be considered bullying–unless such requests form part of a larger campaign of ongoing harassment.

When the line is crossed into racism, sexism, repeated intimidation, chronic belittlement, sexual harassment or other forms of sustained victimisation, a whole set of problems can arise. This includes expensive lawsuits.

‘Harmless fun’ isn’t harmless when it drags down workplace culture and affects employee well-being and emotional health.

How Does Job Insecurity Factor Into Workplace Bullying?

Job insecurity plays a huge part in bullying scenarios. Bullies love to use your job insecurity against you. 

The flimsier your contract, the more temporary your position and the less HR support you will have. Moreover, the more isolated and helpless bullies can make you feel, the more power it gives them.

Research has found that nearly half of all Australian employees experience workplace bullying during their careers. Equally telling is that 40% of these victims were bullied early in their careers at a young age. Young people employed in stressful environments with limited workplace social support were found to be at the highest risk of bullying.

Fragile job security can lead to a work climate that’s a breeding ground for negative behaviours. It can be emotionally devastating to go home at night wondering if you’ll still have a job in the morning—solely because you’ve been targeted by a workplace bully.

What many bullying victims don’t realise (or realise too late) is that they have some power too.

Bullies place themselves in a precarious position. Not only does their behaviour create a poisonous environment that adversely affects productivity but some of their actions may be against the law.

The High Price of Workplace Bullying

Bullying of anyone in the workplace, apprentices or not, has a huge and proven negative impact.

Productivity drops. There’s also higher staff turnover, which leads to extra training and recruitment costs. In addition, work is disrupted while employee complaints are investigated.

Morale or motivation also decreases, while absenteeism or presenteeism rises. There are also extra costs associated with workers’ compensation claims, support, mediation and counselling. Furthermore, business reputation suffers.

Research shows that bullying costs Australia up to $36 billion each year, with the average case draining employer’s pockets to the tune of $17,000-24,000. Fines under the Workplace Health and Safety Act can be as much as $3 million for a Category 1 offence. On top of all that, workplace stress costs this country more than $14 billion a year.

For everyone’s sake, we need to treat our hard-working apprentices, interns and new hires with the respect they deserve.

Bullyology® is passionate about raising awareness on the effects of bullying and helping people break the silence. If you would like to book us for a training course or speaking event, please get in touch.

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