It isn’t hard to see that bullying, harassment, and other exclusionary practices in the workplace are detrimental to an organisation’s ability to achieve its goals. Team members who feel directly victimised at work will be less engaged with their tasks, less motivated to do their best, and less able to collaborate effectively with their colleagues. Looking at the bigger picture, workplaces that allow or even foster bullying and harassment are without a doubt not creating an environment where everyone is able to contribute according to their skills and potential.
Recent data released by federal workplace insurer Comcare allows us to see one aspect of the cost of these exclusionary practices in the Australian Public Service. Mental stress claims made by public servants are now costing taxpayers $80 million annually in compensation, where employees often are unable to work and are traumatised due to experiences in their everyday place of work.
While claims of mental stress with Comcare have risen 88% in the past six years, most likely due to a greater acceptance of the impact of bullying and harassment, the unseen and unreported cases of exclusion represent an even greater cost to organisations. Research by Deloitte and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has shown that the more included an employee feels, the more likely they are to both attend work and to receive higher performance ratings. Conversely, exclusion of employees will increase absenteeism and dampen performance.
The greater acceptance and understanding of the cost of bullying and harassment to an employee’s wellbeing is encouraging, and insurers are right in providing high levels of compensation to those who have been affected. However, organisations can do more to foster an environment where inclusive practices are the norm, and where any exclusionary tactics are few and far between (and swiftly dealt with). More inclusive organisations save money for taxpayers and shareholders, improve outcomes, and foster greater staff engagement.
This kind of cultural change doesn’t come easily, or quickly; but there are steps that can and should be taken. Inclusion training for all staff, and particularly for those in leadership roles, is a powerful way to draw our attention to behaviours in the workplace and how they may be affecting the experiences of others. By better connecting with our own feelings of inclusion and exclusion we can create organisations where everyone feels equally supported, respected, and valued, and contributes their best every day.