Essay one topic:In your view, what is the most significant employment relations issue in New Zealand today? Provide evidence to support our claim, and indicate how the issue will impact on key ER parties( e.g. employer(s), union(s),employees, the state).
Employment relations issue has recently attracted more and more attentions from domestic and foreign researchers when it comes to build constructive employment relations in workplace. It is not only the problems between employees and employers but also encompass the trade unions and the government. Workplace bullying is emerging as one of issues of legitimate concern within many industries throughout the world (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf & Cooper, 2011) and New Zealand as well and it has significant damage to employment relations. Yet, despite the fact that academic studies of workplace bullying is only in its adolescence and there is no universal definition and considerable measurement process (Nielsen, Matthiesen, & Einarsen, 2010), workplace bullying is generally seen as gradually evolved, repeated and negative behaviours that affect people’s physical and psychological well-being while those victims feel unable to combat with those passive acts (Loerbroks et al., 2015). In New Zealand, workplace bullying has been investigated by some researches (see, for example, Bentley, Catley, Gardner, O’Driscoll, & Cooper-Thomas, 2009; O’Driscoll et al., 2011) and it demonstrates the present severe situations of bullying in the context of different workplace and a wide range of people experienced bullying prevalence. As a result, workplace bullying is a serious issue in contemporary working life in New Zealand and it is fatal to individuals and even to society as a whole. So the purpose of this essay is to figure out the adverse implications of workplace bullying from employment relations perspectives and how workplace bulling issues are treated by all employment relations key parties in order to tackle this problem. The essay structure is as follows: firstly, it reviews some researches regarding the situation of workplace bullying and the reason why bullying often occurs at workplace in New Zealand. Then it explains how workplace bullying affects employees and employers and also how employees and organizations should respond to bullying issues. Further, the governments also provide some guidelines to addressing workplace bullying and some legislation can be used to support workplace bullying claims. In the end, it explains the relationships between trade unions and workplace bullying.
Workplace bullying is not an uncommon phenomenon in New Zealand and there is strong evidence to demonstrate that bullying could happen in our daily work life. According to the joint research conducted by Bentley et al. (2009) and O’Driscoll et al. (2011), overall 17.8% of target survey groups were identified the victims who have experienced workplace bullying in the last half a year. This survey mainly covers across four industries sectors: education, health, hospitality and travel industries and the prevalence of bullying varies between these four sectors. Education industry and health sectors typically have the most prevalent, which is 22.4% and 18.4% respectively. These rates followed by hospitality (15%) and travel (11.4%). Compared with other countries, Spanish employees reported 26% of respondents were found to have experienced bullying weekly (Moreno-Jiménez, Rodríguez-Muñoz, Salin, & Morante, 2008). Similarity, research also conducted in other European countries such as Denmark (Mikkelsen & Einarsen, 2001) and Norway (Einarsen & Raknes, 1997). However, Nielsen et al (2010) conducted a meta-analysis research across many countries and reveals an overall prevalence rate of workplace bulling is 14.8%. Although these studies show variability of workplace bullying prevalence between different countries and there is less research for countries such as Australia and New Zealand compared with other European countries, it is still indicates that a wide range of New Zealanders suffer from workplace bullying and New Zealand may be one of the countries with the highest rates of workplace bullying in the world as overall international rates are between 5% and 20% (Nielsen et al., 2010; O’Driscoll et al., 2011).
The issue of managing diversity such as ethnicity might be the reason why workplace bullying is a common phenomenon in New Zealand. According to 2013 Census of major ethnic groups in New Zealand, Europeans (74%) are the dominant ethnicity, and this figure followed by Maori (15%), Asian (12%), Pasifica (7%) and Middle Eastern/Latin American/ African (1%) (Statistics NZ, 2013). And Maori as first peoples settled down in New Zealand have special roles due to the historical factors. So there is a wide range of ethnicity workforce groups accompanied with different religious and culture and it is easy to cause cultural conflict and racial harassment. In addition to the cultural reason, an increasing number of new immigrants might also experience discrimination when they are working for new jobs. This is because some employers have different standards to assess varies ethnicity due to their personal prejudice.
The nature of small-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) might be another reason that affects workplace bullying in New Zealand. Around 31% of employees are employed in SMEs and most of them are from private industry. And in private industry, 24% of employees are hired in firms less than 10 employees and 28% employees are employed in firms with 10-49 employees (Parker & Arrowsmith, 2013). In small companies, managers and staff contact closely but there is lack of formal structure, so employees always express their concerns to managers in an informal way and there is no proper reporting systems to dealing with bullying issues as managers always consider bullying as a personal problem. Besides, most employees from SMEs are not the union members and collective employment agreements are more likely to cover large companies. So employees from SMEs are less likely to be protected by union representatives when they are in serious troubles.
There is no doubt that workplace bulling has severe detrimental influences for employee’s health and well-being. According to the report conducted by Mikkelsen and Einarsen (2002), more than half of respondents who exposure to workplace bullying experienced physical and psychological illness. To be more specific, bullying is often referred to as harassment and victimization and people who persistent exposure to workplace bullying behaviour can certainly get stressful. Hence, it is easier for employees who experienced workplace harassment and bullying to get post-traumatic stress disorder (Leymann & Gustafsson, 1996). Similarly, chronic stressful working environment can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, aggression and even suicidal thoughts. These psychological disorders can also cause other severe problems such as alcohol and drug abuse due to paranoia and oversensitive（Einarsen & Raknes, 1997). In addition to this, the negative effects of mental health can also result in physical illness. For example, excess work pressures negatively cause trouble sleeping and more moderate issues such as migraine headaches, stomach problems. Then more serious, people may experience higher blood pressure and some other work-related illness.
Workplace bullying also affect job performance of bullied employees. Jackson, Clare and Mannix (2002) states that high levels of workplace bullying were associated with low levels of work performance. Similarity, Bowling and Beehr (2006) also conducted a meta-analysis to illustrate the relations between employees job performance and bullying at work. To be more specific, bullied workers cannot perform their jobs properly due to low self-esteem and lack of confidence. These issues can also result in incapacity or not concentrate on their work and then have trouble to make accurate work decisions. Besides, bullied workers not only experienced low motivation but also always preoccupied with some other things such as how to defend themselves and avoid bullying. Hence, workplace bullying could lower work performance and productivity due to low employee morale and poor working conditions.
Workplace bullying not only affects bullied victims directly but also affects witnesses and bystanders at work（Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994). For example, according to a British survey (Rayner, 1999), 73% of respondents complained higher stress levels when they witness bullying at work, 44% of them feared to be the next victims and more than one-third of them feared to help bullied victims. This is because bullying witnesses change their perceptions and expectations of work even they are not directly bullied. Besides, it is easy for them to get anxiety and depression when they worry about that they might become a next target of bullying by others in the workplace. Further, the health and well-being also reduced due to the exposure to the abusive working environment for a long time. As a result, bullying observers are influenced by low job performance and productivity like the other bullied workers.
For employers, it is undeniable that individual’s negative consequences of workplace bullying have adverse effects on organization’s productivity. This is because the victims of bullying have reduced job satisfaction and low motivation to participate in work. Besides, long term consequences of bullying increases sickness absence when bullied workers cannot defend themselves in the poor working environment. According to the research done by Mundbjerg Eriksen, Hogh and Hansen (2016), females are likely to have higher percentage to take long-term sickness leave when they exposure to bullying while males are more likely to leave the labour force immediately. Then there is low employee loyalty and commitment to the organization and high employee turnover rates as bullied workers might leave the organization. So the productivity of organization impacted by workplace bullying.
Negative consequences of workplace bullying also has considerable costly effects for employers or even the government. First, organizations need pay for loses of productivity such as inefficient work. Then there is significant financial impact on employee turnover and some associated bullying investigations. For example, in the UK, an estimate of average replacement expenditure is GBP$15,000 and this may include the entire process such as advertising, arranging interview and training. While an estimate of directly or hidden cost are higher when bullied workers seek for complaint investigation and legal actions, around GBP$75,000 (Rayner, 2000). Although there is no specific evidence of the estimate cost of workplace bullying in New Zealand, Sheehan, McCarthy, Barker and Henderson (2001) conservative assess the basic prevalence rates of workplace bullying was 3.5% in Australia and organizations estimated loss ranged from AUD $6 billion to AUD $13 billion each year. This spending may also includes all direct and hidden pay expenses such as regular absenteeism, high employee turnover rates, legal supports and investigations, management time for dealing with those bullying complaints and claims and related costs of treatment and compensation. And those figures significantly indicate that New Zealand might experiences the same high cost challenges as there are many similarities between the two countries.
Considering the significant adverse implications of workplace bullying, victims and witnesses who experienced bullying should take the issues seriously rather than keep silence. Employees could deal with concerns by themselves such as speaking to the person in private if the situation is not serious. Besides, bullied workers also could report it to managers immediately, in this stage, managers might discuss with the person and find out the truth of the matter, giving a warning informally and preventing it happens again. Further if manager did not solve the problem and the bullying behaviour continues, bullied workers should make a formal complaint through workplace policies and processes, union representatives, lawyer or even ask help for mediation or labour inspector.
From organizational perspectives, anti-bullying culture (Blackwood & Bentley, 2013; Yamada, 2008) and related policies as the primary prevention strategies should be established in organizations. To be more precise, employers have responsibility to create a workplace where there is safe and no bullying, harassment and discrimination and it is important for employers to set an example of creating a good relationship with employees and refuse those unacceptable behaviours. Besides, make sure there is enough policies and guidance against bullying issues and formal and a clear reporting process is necessary as well in organizations. So there are clear guidelines for employers and employees to investigate bullying. In addition, employers must follow the process of investigation and take further proper action due to the sensitive nature of some bullying cases.
The government is also aware of the influences of workplace bullying and provides some guidelines. For example, there is guideline of resolving problems of employment relationships released by Employment New Zealand and it provides a fair process to investigate and control the workplace bullying issues (Employment NZ, 2017). Besides, WorkSafe New Zealand also releases good practice guidance for all businesses and individuals regarding how to prevent and respond to bullying behaviours at work (WorkSafe NZ, 2017). In addition, Human Rights Commission offers bullying training kit in order to create a positive and health working environment and also allege that all workers, employers and unions should attach great importance to avoid bullying in the workplace (Human Rights Commission, 2017).
Despite workplace bullying has been gradually recognized by all employees, employers and the government, there is no specific law or legal policy to help organizations dealing with bullying issues (Blackwood & Bentley, 2013). The Human Right Act 1993 gives high priority to against discrimination and clarify it is illegal, under the Act, the Human Right Commission(HRC) provides legal protection for all workers away from discrimination and resolve problems regarding to unfair discrimination (Human Right Commission,2017). Besides, discrimination and harassment also mentioned by the section 104,105,106,108 and 109 of Employment Relations Act 2000 (New Zealand Legislation, 2017). Compared with discrimination and harassment issues, there are many policy guidelines regarding workplace bullying but still lacks of specific legislative basis to support workplace bullying cases in New Zealand. Hence, it is legitimate to addressing bullying issues through legalistic approach.
The legislation of Employment Relations Act 2000 (ER Act 2000) is the most commonly used statute for employees to dealing with employment dispute in the workplace. It encourages mediation as the primary resolution mechanism to avoid the further judicial intervention. Under the section 103 of ER Act 2000, Organizations also commonly provide personal grievance process as a primary intervention to addressing bullying claims if informal complaint does not solve the problems. It protects employees from being suffer disadvantages and unfair treatment of the employers or employment agreement has been unjustifiable dismiss. Besides, claimants can also ask legal support and argue that the employers do not tackling the problems promptly and fairly (Blackwood & Bentley, 2013).
Claims of workplace bullying can also be determined by the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (HSE Act 1992). The aim of the Act is to prevent all persons away from harm and promote health and safety at work. Under the Act, claims can be appealed when employer’s breach of their duty to ensure the safety of employees while at work. Then Heath and Safety in Employment Amendment Act 2002 made some changes, for example, “mental harm caused by work-related stress’’ were included in the definition of “harm” and amendments also defined “hazard” as “ a situation where a person’s behaviour may be an actual or potential or source of harm”. It is important to integrate the psychological and stress-related hazard into the legislation as it increases the recognition and awareness of the seriousness of the implications of workplace bulling issues (Blackwood & Bentley, 2013).
Trade unions also play a significant support role in dealing with workplace bullying issues for some organizations in New Zealand. As New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) declared everyone has the right to work in the conditions of freedom, security, fairness and dignity (NZCTU, 2010). Unions as a representative of employee’s interest exist for workers to negotiate and improve their working conditions, so union delegates always attend at bullying mediation meeting and provide vital support and advice for victims to resisting workplace bullying as sometimes individual targets are weak to raising a complaint in the workplace. In New Zealand, bullying could happen in any organizations and it has caught the attention of most of unions. For example, trade unions have made some personal grievance claims for bullied workers in the last few years. Besides, many unions and organizations have same aspirations for preventing bullying issues and they work co-operatively with each other in supporting and implementing zero-tolerance policy and practice (Parker & Arrowsmith, 2013).
In conclusion, workplace bullying has become a serious issue in employment relations and it has been recognized by New Zealand and some other countries. There is strong evidence researched by some scholars to demonstrate the severe situations in New Zealand currently and it indicates that New Zealand has one of the highest workplace bullying rates in the world. The characteristics of ethnic diversity and a large number of SMEs might be the reason why bullying phenomenon is very often at work in New Zealand. This is because diverse ethnicity might cause cultural conflict and racial harassment and SMEs are always lack of formal structures and union support to dealing with bullying issues. Besides, it must be admitted that the negative influences of the prevalence of workplace bullying has ranged from individuals to organizations and even in the society as a whole. For employees, bullied worker might experience detrimental physical and psychological harm and then further affect their work performance due to the stress and tension between employees and employers. Witnesses also can be influenced by workplace bullying due to long time exposure to the unhealthy working environment. For employers, the productivity of organizations is adversely affected by the low participation and motivation of employees as a result of bullying. And then employers and even the government have to spend a huge cost for these direct and indirect losses such as inefficient work, absenteeism, bullying legal aid and investigations and bullying-related health compensation. In response to these negative effects, all affected employment relations parties such as employees, employers, the government and trade unions are involved to addressing the bullying issues. Firstly, bullied workers should raise the complaint to their manager informally at first and then make a formal claim or ask legal advice if primary prevention is not successful. Then employers also need to build a health working relationships within the organisations and make sure there are formal reporting procedures for employees to solving bullying issues. In addition, the government also pays a huge attention to workplace bullying issue and people can receive a lot of guidelines and support from Employment New Zealand, WorkSafe New Zealand and Human Right Commission. Despite there is lack of specific legislation to hold workplace bullying issues, these problems can be make under the ER Act 2000 and HSE Act 1992. At last, trade unions as anti-bullying advocate also provide a considerable support for some individuals and organizations in New Zealand.
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