Sunday, April 14, 2024

David Lillis: Anti-Workplace Bullying Representation in New Zealand

Last month I conducted a short survey of anti-workplace bullying representation (advocacy) in New Zealand. A total of 87 people completed the survey which was designed to be answered very quickly and involved only eight questions. Respondents’ email accounts and IP addresses were and remain unknown to me as the researcher and thus individual responses are both anonymised and confidential.

The sample of respondents is not a random sample, because in such surveys the actual sample depends on which websites the survey link is posted, who happens to come across it and who chooses to complete it. Respondents came from twelve of New Zealand’s sixteen regions, especially from Wellington (17), Auckland (16) and the Waikato (16).

While such representation of the regions is acceptable for a small-scale survey and about as good as can be expected, the sample of respondents is neither random nor representative in terms of population sizes or demographic compositions of New Zealand’s regions, cities, towns or rural communities. Nevertheless, I consider that the survey has provided useful insights into respondents’ perceptions of the representation that they received when attempting to defend against workplace bullying.

Key Results

1. Prevalence of Bullying among Respondents

Some 97% (84) reported having experienced behaviours that in their view constituted workplace bullying. One reported not having been bullied while two were unsure.


 2.  Awareness of the Existence of Employment Relations Authority (ERA) Representatives

At the time of the bullying that they believe they experienced, about 71% (61) were not aware of anti-workplace bullying Employment Relations Authority (ERA) representatives in New Zealand; 22% (19) were aware and about 7% (6) were unsure. One person did not respond.

3. Different Kinds of Representative

To assist them in addressing bullying, respondents selected lawyers, union staff, advocates and others as representatives in roughly equal numbers. Union staff: 29% (25), Lawyers: 22% (19), Advocates: 22% (19) and others: 26% (22). Other choices included themselves, colleagues and, in a few cases, more than one of these options. One did not seek representation. Two respondents did not answer.

4.  Quality of Service

About 59% evaluated the quality of service that they received from their representative as either acceptable: 13% (10), good: 15% (11) or excellent: 31% (23). About 42% felt that the quality was very poor: 19% (14) or poor: 23% (17). Twelve respondents did not answer.

5.  Was Representation Worth the Cost?

About 37% (31) felt that their representation was worth the cost. About 42% (35) felt that it was not worth the cost, while 20% (17) were unsure. Four respondents did not answer.

 6.  Other Feedback

Textual feedback provided by respondents is confidential to them, Allan Halse of Cultureshift (a New Zealand anti-workplace bullying agency) and to me as the researcher. However, much of it consists of brief accounts of the bullying and/or sexual harassment that they experienced and the consequential negative impacts on them. Other feedback included both positive and negative evaluations of employers, senior management, university administration, Human Resources, unions and advocates. Finally, one respondent reported having been accused falsely of engaging in bullying.

In New Zealand we have a very serious workplace bullying problem, as well as a problem within our schools. While the sample of this survey was too small and insufficiently representative to enable generalizations to our wider societal bullying issue, nevertheless the textual feedback is very disturbing. Not only do many workers get treated badly, but we suffer from a severe lack of qualified and competent representatives or advocates who can assist those being bullied. The cost of representation can be very high and for some people may not be worth the cost.

The survey highlighted the seriousness of the problem and very concerning is the scale of the bullying experienced by academics and public servants. In 2024 we need systemic change within our academic and public and private sector organizations, as well as genuine will to improve working environments.

I hope that further research on representation (advocacy) for workplace bullying will be conducted on much larger samples than in my survey. Such research could help us to find effective ways of addressing our bullying problem.

Dr David Lillis trained in physics and mathematics at Victoria University and Curtin University in Perth, working as a teacher, researcher, statistician and lecturer for most of his career. He has published many articles and scientific papers, as well as a book on graphing and statistics.


Anonymous said...

Thank you doing this and for sharing the results. It’s always puzzled me that NZ tolerates bullying as much as it does.

Anonymous said...

is this a case of building a grievance factory? 84/87 respondents say they were bullied - really? don't we need to ask what's the definition of bullying is? i'm sure research like this trivialises what real bullying goes on anywhere!

David Lillis said...

Hi anonymous.
No grievance factory here and this survey is about representation (advocacy) rather than bullying behaviours. I had to keep the survey short so as not to turn people off and focused on those who perceived themselves to have been bullied. Of course, those who responded were mainly people who had experienced what they perceived to be bullying rather than people who had not. That's why we have 84/87.

I agree that a definition of bullying is important and that's for a future survey that indeed will look at prevalence, severity and frequency of bullying.

Plenty of bullying in New Zealand and I have written four posts on bullying for Breaking Views which you can find easily on this site.

I saw horrific bullying in four places where I have worked and have interviewed more than 60 people who described their experiences. It must be called out and we need to know how people being bullied out of employment perceive the representation they received when defending themselves.
David Lillis

Anonymous said...

Iif you want to see bullying try working for an international American company. All dressed up as staff management with policies to hide the brutal cynicism of the American view that employees are simply expendable units assessed by cost to company and shareholder return. Not to mention the exploitation of contractors. The attitude - if you don't like it then go. If you complain we will manage you out. All within policy and local law of course.